Nelson Mandela, apartheid fighter and former South African president, dies at 95


Nelson Mandela guided South Africa from the shackles of apartheid to multi-racial democracy, as an icon of peace and reconciliation who came to embody the struggle for justice around the world.

Imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against white minority rule, Mandela emerged determined to use his prestige and charisma to bring down apartheid while avoiding a civil war.

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,” Mandela said in his acceptance speech on becoming South Africa's first black president in 1994.

“We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation.”

In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an honour he shared with F.W. de Klerk, the white Afrikaner leader who freed him from prison three years earlier and negotiated the end of apartheid.

Mandela went on to play a prominent role on the world stage as an advocate of human dignity in the face of challenges ranging from political repression to AIDS.

He formally left public life in June 2004 before his 86th birthday, telling his adoring countrymen: “Don't call me. I'll call you”. But he remained one of the world's most revered public figures, combining celebrity sparkle with an unwavering message of freedom, respect and human rights.

[From our archives: A South African-born rabbi reflects
on Nelson Mandela and the Jewish community
]

Whether defending himself at his own treason trial in 1963 or addressing world leaders years later as a greying elder statesman, he radiated an image of moral rectitude expressed in measured tones, often leavened by a mischievous humour.

“He is at the epicentre of our time, ours in South Africa, and yours, wherever you are,” Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer and Nobel Laureate for Literature, once remarked.

Mandela's years behind bars made him the world's most celebrated political prisoner and a leader of mythic stature for millions of black South Africans and other oppressed people far beyond his country's borders.

Charged with capital offences in the 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he told the court.

“It is an ideal I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

DESTINED TO LEAD

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, destined to lead as the son of the chief councillor to the paramount chief of the Thembu people in Transkei.

He chose to devote his life to the fight against white domination. He studied at Fort Hare University, an elite black college, but left in 1940 short of completing his studies and became involved with the African National Congress (ANC), founding its Youth League in 1944 with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.

Mandela worked as a law clerk then became a lawyer who ran one of the few practices that served blacks.

In 1952 he and others were charged for violating the Suppression of Communism Act but their nine-month sentence was suspended for two years.

Mandela was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid, going underground in 1961 to form the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, or 'Spear of the Nation' in Zulu.

He left South Africa and travelled the continent and Europe, studying guerrilla warfare and building support for the ANC.

After his return in 1962, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to five years for incitement and illegally leaving the country. While serving that sentence, he was charged with sabotage and plotting to overthrow the government along with other anti-apartheid leaders in the Rivonia Trial.

Branded a terrorist by his enemies, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, isolated from millions of his countrymen as they suffered oppression, violence and forced resettlement under the apartheid regime of racial segregation.

He was incarcerated on Robben Island, a penal colony off Cape Town, where he would spend the next 18 years before being moved to mainland prisons.

He was behind bars when an uprising broke out in the huge township of Soweto in 1976 and when others erupted in violence in the 1980s. But when the regime realised it was time to negotiate, it was Mandela to whom it turned.

In his later years in prison, he met President P.W. Botha and his successor de Klerk.

When he was released on Feb. 11, 1990, walking away from the Victor Verster prison hand-in-hand with his wife Winnie, the event was watched live by television viewers across the world.

“As I finally walked through those gates … I felt even at the age of 71 that my life was beginning anew. My 10,000 days of imprisonment were at last over,” Mandela wrote of that day.

ELECTIONS AND RECONCILATION

In the next four years, thousands of people died in political violence. Most were blacks killed in fighting between ANC supporters and Zulus loyal to Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, although right-wing whites also staged violent actions to upset the moves towards democracy.

Mandela prevented a racial explosion after the murder of popular Communist Party leader Chris Hani by a white assassin in 1993, appealing for calm in a national television address. That same year, he and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Talks between the ANC and the government began in 1991, leading to South Africa's first all-race elections on April 27, 1994.

The run-up to the vote was marred by fighting, including gun battles in Johannesburg townships and virtual war in the Zulu stronghold of KwaZulu Natal.

But Mandela campaigned across the country, enthralling adoring crowds of blacks and wooing whites with assurances that there was a place for them in the new South Africa.

The election result was never in doubt and his inauguration in Pretoria on May 10, 1994, was a celebration of a peoples' freedom.

Mandela made reconciliation the theme of his presidency. He took tea with his former jailers and won over many whites when he donned the jersey of South Africa's national rugby team – once a symbol of white supremacy – at the final of the World Cup in 1995 at Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium.

The hallmark of Mandela's mission was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated apartheid crimes on both sides and tried to heal the wounds. It also provided a model for other countries torn by civil strife.

In 1999, Mandela, often criticised for having a woolly grasp of economics, handed over to younger leaders – a voluntary departure from power cited as an example to long-ruling African leaders.

A restful retirement was not on the cards as Mandela shifted his energies to fighting South Africa's AIDS crisis.

He spoke against the stigma surrounding the infection, while successor Thabo Mbeki was accused of failing to comprehend the extent of the crisis.

The fight became personal in early 2005 when Mandela lost his only surviving son to the disease.

But the stress of his long struggle contributed to the break-up of his marriage to equally fierce anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie.

The country shared the pain of their divorce in 1996 before watching his courtship of Graca Machel, widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, whom he married on his 80th birthday in 1998.

Friends adored “Madiba”, the clan name by which he is known. People lauded his humanity, kindness, attention and dignity.

Unable to shake the habits of prison, Mandela rose daily between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to exercise and read. He drank little and was a fervent anti-smoker.

An amateur boxer in his younger days, Mandela often said the discipline and tactics drawn from training helped him to endure prison and the political battles after his release.

RAINBOW NATION

But prison and old age took their toll on his health.

Mandela was treated in the 1980s for tuberculosis and later required an operation to repair damage to his eyes as well as treatment for prostate cancer in 2001. His spirit, however, remained strong.

“If cancer wins I will still be the better winner,” he told reporters in September of that year. “When I go to the next world, the first thing I will do is look for an ANC office to renew my membership.”

Most South Africans are proud of their post-apartheid multi-racial 'Rainbow Nation'.

But Mandela's legacy of tolerance and reconciliation has been threatened in recent years by squabbling between factions in the ANC and social tensions in a country that, despite its political liberation, still suffers great inequalities.

Mandela's last major appearance on the global stage came in 2010 when he donned a fur cap in the South African winter and rode on a golf cart, waving to an exuberant crowd of 90,000 at the soccer World Cup final, one of the biggest events in the country's post-apartheid history.

“I leave it to the public to decide how they should remember me,” he said on South African television before his retirement.

“But I should like to be remembered as an ordinary South African who together with others has made his humble contribution.”

Writing by Andrew Quinn and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Angus MacSwan

Is beauty a Jewish value?


When we talk about Jewish values, we usually refer to things like justice, compassion, generosity, humility, honesty, faith, wisdom and so on. We rarely talk about beauty.

Beauty is vain and superficial, we’re so often told.

And yet, the word “beautiful” is prominent on this week’s cover of the Jewish Journal, which features an unusually beautiful sukkah, created by designer Jonathan Fong.

Normally, our instinct would be to focus on a deeper meaning of the holiday — the sukkah as a metaphor for humility; as a wake-up call to help the homeless; as a physical, palpable link to our ancestors; as a paradox of frailty and strength; or as an eternal symbol of Jewish endurance.

Those angles are all more profound and meaningful than the notion of beauty. So, why would we feature aesthetics on our cover this year?

One answer is that maybe we simply need a break from all the heaviness. Yes, we can overdose even on things like depth and meaning. Let’s face it, especially at this time of year, we’ve all been marinating in one deep sermon after another. Serious, heavy issues are weighing on us — whether about Israel, society’s ills or the need to transform our lives.

So, it’s quite possible that a light, beautiful sukkah might be just the right antidote to holiday heaviness — an ideal opportunity to lighten up and let all this depth sink in.

Or not.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but in Judaism, meaning lurks everywhere — even in something as superficial as beauty.

“Beauty enhances the mitzvot by appealing to the senses,” according to “Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year” (Central Conference of American Rabbis). “Beautiful sounds and agreeable fragrances, tastes, textures, colors, and artistry contribute to human enjoyment of religious acts, and beauty itself takes on a religious dimension.”

In other words, by adding beauty to what we see, hear, taste and feel, we enhance our spiritual experience of the mitzvah, which brings us closer to the mitzvah itself.

Beauty is also defined, in the Jewish tradition, by the virtues of endurance and permanence.

As Rabbi Joshua Shmidman explains in the magazine Jewish Action: “The Torah requires: ‘And you shall take unto yourselves on the first day (of Sukkot) a fruit of a beautiful tree — pri etz hadar.’ The Talmud (Sukkot 35a) wishes to define what constitutes a beautiful tree by analyzing the Hebrew word for beautiful, hadar.

“The sages conclude that it is the etrog tree, because the word ‘hadar’ is interpreted to be a fruit which ‘dwells continuously all year on the tree’ (ha-dar, literally, ‘that which dwells’). Thus, they understand the word ‘dar’ to mean the opposite of temporary or intermittent residence; rather, it implies permanence, a continuous process through time (similar to the French ‘duree’ or the English ‘endure’).

“The etrog tree fulfills this requirement of constant dwelling, for most other fruits are seasonal, but the etrog grows, blossoms and produces fruit throughout all the seasons: in the heat and the cold, in the wind and in storm — it stubbornly persists! It endures! And in the Jewish view, that is why it is beautiful.”

In addition to its permanence, beauty is also an expression of love. 

As my friend Rabbi Benjamin Blech said to me over lunch last week, adding beauty to a mitzvah — such as making a sukkah beautiful — is an expression of love because it’s a sign that “we are doing the mitzvah not just because we have to, but because we want to.” We glorify God’s presence by going beyond the minimum requirements, by pouring out our love for Him just as we would for those we deeply love.

As the rabbi spoke so beautifully about love, I reflected on another aspect to beauty that is often overlooked — and that is, the beauty of the words we speak.

I don’t care how beautiful we make our sukkahs or holiday tables, if some well-intentioned guest decides to ambush the conversation with a rant against Obama, or Israeli settlers, or the tragic mess in Syria, or any number of incendiary topics best left for another time — all that aesthetic beauty we’ve spent so much time creating will be immediately colored ugly.

If beautiful sounds contribute to the human enjoyment of religious acts, I can’t think of a more beautiful sound than that of pleasant conversation that stimulates the mind and warms our hearts.

In short, by making our sukkahs beautiful and adding meaningful and beautiful conversation, we can honor the enduring value of Jewish beauty, enhance our spiritual experience and deepen our love for the Almighty.

How’s that for superficial?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Jewish organizations petition U.S. gov’t on food justice


In a petition sponsored by seven national Jewish organizations, 18,000 individuals urged the U.S. House of Representatives and the Obama administration to focus on food justice in the upcoming Farm Bill.

The petition, which has been circulating since October, was delivered on Thursday to coincide with the House Agriculture Committee’s markup of the Farm Bill in the coming weeks.

A coalition of Jewish organizations called the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group sponsored the petition. The coalition includes the American Jewish World Service, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Hazon, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union for Reform Judaism.

Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON, noted in a statement that the Farm Bill authorization process, which occurs every five years, gives the Jewish community “a chance to reexamine our national priorities with regard to food.”

“The Farm Bill governs the kinds and levels of assistance we provide to hungry people, helps regulate what crops are planted, establishes whether sustainable farming and conservation practices will be implemented, and influences whether our food is healthy and affordable,” Leibman said. “Each and every one of us has a stake in the Farm Bill.”

Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, added that the outpouring of support for the petition was a sign of the bill’s importance to the Jewish community.

“It has been evident through the petition that our constituents understand how critical it is that the United States work to enact policies that pursue long-term approaches to eradicating hunger. We cannot wait any longer,” Messinger said in the statement.

Life story, Israel trips tie Sotomayor to Jews


Jewish groups don’t endorse U.S. Supreme Court nominees, at least in writing.

The tears and choked sobs when Sonia Sotomayor accepted President Obama’s nomination on Tuesday told another story.

Packed into the room along with Sotomayor’s family, friends and colleagues were representatives of Jewish groups that have consulted with the White House about prospective replacements for David Souter.

The story of her life—the daughter of a Puerto Rican single mother from the Bronx, N.Y., whose ambitions knew no bounds—resounded with a community that has made the story of immigrant triumph over struggle a template of Jewish American success.

“It was impossible not to moved by her personal story,” said Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “To see her mother sitting there and think about what this says about her and her country—the combination of someone who grew up in a housing project, who has been on the bench for a long time, but who has been a prosecutor as well, that combination is very powerful.”

“It was thrilling,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council of Jewish Women.

It doesn’t hurt that Sotomayor, 54, is a poster child for strong Jewish-Hispanic relations. In 1986, when she was in private legal practice, she joined one of the first young leadership tours of Israel sponsored by Project Interchange, which is affiliated with the American Jewish Committee.

Sotomayor so enjoyed the country—its immigrant culture, its popular music influenced heavily by Jewish immigrants from Argentina and Brazil—that she made a return visit in 1996 when she was a federal judge, and recently joined a Project Interchange U.S.-Israel forum on immigration. In the process, she formed a lifelong friendship with Project Interchange founder Debbie Berger and her husband, Paul, who attended her swearing-in as a Manhattan appeals court judge in 1998.

“She enjoyed Israel not just from an intellectual perspective, she liked the music and the people,” Paul Berger told JTA.

Richard Foltin, the legislative director for the AJC, said her background naturally played a role in how the Jewish community would welcome her.

“We must recognize the significance of the third woman and first Hispanic on the court,” he said. “And there’s no question of her impressive qualifications.”

Sotomayor would come to the Supreme Court with one of the longest bench careers in its history, having handed down or joined 3,000 decisions in 18 years as a federal and appeals court judge. That’s a lot to read through and accounted for a degree of hesitancy from Jewish groups that were enthused about her life story but just getting to know her judicial record.

“I’ve got a bunch of opinions in my briefcase and it’s time to start reading,” Pelavin said.

The National Council of Jewish Women—one of the few Jewish groups that expresses an opinion on judicial candidates—has yet to announce where it stands. Whatever the case, said Nancy Ratzan, the NCJW’s president, the organization would dedicate itself to ensuring that Sotomayor receives a fair hearing.

“Our 90,000 followers will be focused on making sure it’s a fair and prompt process that focuses on her record,” she said.

NCJW and the Religious Action Center will canvass members for appropriate questions for Sotomayor during the confirmation process; the questions will be relayed to the U.S. Senate Judicary Committee.

Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling for a process that is conducted “professionally, and with civility and respect,” and praised the pick while stopping short of an official endorsement.

“We applaud President Obama for having selected this noted jurist to be the Court’s first Hispanic and third woman Justice,” the ADL leaders stated. “If confirmed, she will undoubtedly bring an important new perspective to the work of the Court.”

Even the Orthodox Union, which tends to stake our more conservative ground than other Jewish organizations on church-state issues, spoke positively about Sotomayor, citing several religious freedom-related cases.

In a 1993 case, she upheld the constitutional right of a rabbi in White Plains, N.Y., to display a menorah in a city park. In two other cases, in 1994 and 2003, Sotomayor upheld prisoners’ religious rights even though the practices in question did not conform with mainstream beliefs. And in 2006, she ruled that allowing federal age discrimination statutes to apply to a 70-year-old minister dismissed by the Methodist church would constitute unwarranted government interference in church affairs.

Those decisions, OU said, were “very encouraging.”

Marc Stern, the legal counsel for the American Jewish Congress, predicted that Sotomayor’s long bench experience ultimately will be a plus. More time on the bench shaping reasoned opinions made her less of a target than other nominees—like Lani Gunier, Robert Bork and Samuel Alito—whose years pushing intellectual boundaries in the halls of academe handed fodder to opponents seeking controversial statements.

Additionally, the 2nd Circuit of Appeals—based in Manhattan and covering New York, Connecticut and Vermont—deals with cases emerging from courts and legislatures that already trend liberal. That means it is less likely to address issues such as abortion and discrimination that often exercise Jewish groups.

“There’s no track record that anyone can point to,” Stern said. “There’s not likely going to be a whole lot there as a smoking gun.”

It’s time for words to lead the peace process


It is now clear that no peace agreement, not even on principles, will be signed by the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating team before some time in 2009, after the
new American administration takes charge, the Israeli election runs its course and the fate of Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency is decided.

Analysts who have been urging the two sides to expedite matters for all the many reasons that made the window of opportunities narrower by the day are now urging them to “keep the momentum going,” lest the window, which I doubt ever existed, becomes too narrow to re-open.

But how do you keep momentum going when the two sides are locked in a fundamentally immobile stalemate?

Israel is physically unable to accommodate a sovereign neighbor a rocket range away from its vital airports, one whose youngsters openly vow to destroy it. And Palestinians, on their part, cannot change their youngsters’ vows after having nourished them for decades, especially under occupation, while Iran is promising to turn those vows into reality.

Yet there is a way. If we cannot move on the ground, we should move above it — in the metaphysical sphere of words, metaphors and paradigms — to create a movement that not only would maintain the perception of “keeping the momentum going,” but could actually be the key to any future movement on the ground.

Let us be frank: The current stalemate is ideological, not physical, and it hangs on two major contentions: “historical right” and “justice,” which must be wrestled with in words before we can expect any substantive movement on the ground.

Starting with “historical right,” we recall that a year ago, the Annapolis process was on the verge of collapse on account of two words: “Jewish state.”

In the week preceding Annapolis, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat proclaimed, “The PA would never acknowledge Israel’s Jewish identity,” to which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted angrily with: “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state…. Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me.”

Clearly, to the secular Israeli society, the insistence on a Jewish state has nothing to do with kosher food or wearing yarmulkes; it has to do with historical claims of co-ownership and legitimacy, which are prerequisites for any lasting peace, regardless of its shape. Olmert’s reaction, which is shared by the vast majority of Israelis, translates into: “Whoever refuses to tell his children that Jews are here by moral and historical imperative has no intention of honoring his agreements in the long run.”

In other words, recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” is seen by Israelis as a litmus test for Arabs’ intentions to take peace agreements as permanent. Unfortunately, for the Arabs, the words “Jewish state” signal the legitimization of a theocratic society and the exclusion of non-Jews from co-ownership in the state.

Can these two views be reconciled?

Of course they can. If the PA agrees to recognize Israel’s “historical right” to exist (instead of just “right to exist” or “exist as a Jewish state”) fears connected with religious exclusion will not be awakened, and Israel’s demand for a proof of intention will simultaneously be satisfied: You do not teach your children of your neighbor’s “historical right” unless you intend to make the final status agreement truly final — education is an irreversible investment.

But would the PA ever agree to grant Israel such recognition?

This brings us to the second magical word: “justice.” One of the main impediments to Palestinians’ recognition of Israel’s “right to exist,” be it historical or de-facto, is their fear that such recognition would delegitimize the Arabs’ struggle against the Zionist program throughout the first half of the 20th century, thus contextualizing the entire conflict as a whimsical Arab aggression and weakening their claims to the “right of return.”

All analysts agree that Palestinians would never agree to give up, tarnish or weaken this right. They might, however, accept a symbolic recognition that would satisfy, neutralize and, perhaps, even substitute for the literal right of return.

Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab wrote in the Washington Post (May 12): “The basic demand is not the physical return of all refugees but for Israel to take responsibility for causing this decades-long tragedy.”

Similar to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Palestinian refugees demand their place in history through recognition that their suffering was not a senseless dust storm but part of a man-made historical process, to which someone bears responsibility and is prepared to amend the injustice.

Journalist Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset, believes that this deep sense of injustice can be satisfied through an open and frank Israeli apology.

“I believe that peace between us and the Palestinian people — a real peace, based on real conciliation — starts with an apology” he wrote in Arabic Media Internet Network, June 14 (www.amin.org).

“In my mind’s eye,” he writes, “I see the president of the state or the prime minister addressing an extraordinary session of the Knesset and making an historic speech of apology:

‘Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

‘On behalf of the State of Israel and all its citizens, I address today the sons and daughters of the Palestinian people, wherever they are.

‘We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

‘The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement was to save the Jews of Europe, where the dark clouds of hatred for the Jews were gathering. In Eastern Europe, pogroms were raging, and all over Europe there were signs of the process that would eventually lead to the terrible Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews perished.

‘All this does not justify what happened afterwards. The creation of the Jewish national home in this country has involved a profound injustice to you, the people who lived here for generations.

‘We cannot ignore anymore the fact that in the war of 1948 — which is the War of Independence for us and the Naqba for you — some 750,000 Palestinians were compelled to leave their homes and lands. As for the precise circumstances of this tragedy, I propose the establishment of a Committee for Truth and Reconciliation composed of experts from your and from our side, whose conclusions will from then on be incorporated in the schoolbooks, yours and ours.'”

Is Israeli society ready to make such an apology and assume such responsibility? Not a chance.

For an Israeli, admitting guilt for creating the refugee problem is tantamount to embedding Israel’s birth in sin, thus undermining the legitimacy of its existence and encouraging those who threaten that existence. The dominant attitude is: They started the war; wars have painful consequences; they fled on their own, despite our official calls to stay put. We are clean.

Can this attitude be reconciled with Palestinians’ demands for official recognition of their suffering? I believe it can.

Whereas Israelis refuse to assume full responsibility for the consequences of the 1948 war, they are certainly prepared to assume part of that responsibility. After all, Israelis are not unaware of stories about field commanders in the 1948 war who initiated private campaigns to scare Arab villagers and, on some occasions, to force them out.

So, how do we find words to express reciprocal responsibility? Here I take author’s liberty and, following Avnery, appeal to my mind’s eye and envision the continuation of that extraordinary Knesset session at the end of the Israeli president’s speech.

I see Abbas waiting for the applause to subside, stepping to the podium and saying:

“Madam Speaker, honorable Knesset,

“On behalf of the Palestinian people and the future state of Palestine, I address today the sons and daughters of the Jewish nation, wherever they are.

“We recognize the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.

“The burning desire of the founding fathers of the Palestinian national movement was to liberate Palestine from colonial powers, first the Ottoman empire and then the British Mandate Authorities. In their zeal to achieve independence, they have treated the creation of a Jewish national home in this country as a form of colonial occupation, rather than a homecoming endeavor of a potentially friendly neighbor, a partner to liberation, whose historical attachment to this landscape was not weaker than ours.

“We cannot ignore anymore the fact that the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 has resulted in the British White Paper, which prevented thousands, if not millions, of European Jews from escaping the Nazi extermination plan. Nor can we ignore the fact that when survivors of Nazi concentration camps sought refuge in Palestine, we were instrumental in denying them safety and, when they finally established their historical homeland, we called the armies of our Arab brethren to wipe out their newly created state.

“Subsequently, for the past 60 years, in our zeal to rectify the injustice done to us, we have taught our children that only your demise can bring about the justice and liberty they so badly deserve. They took our teachings rather seriously, and some of them resorted to terror wars that killed, maimed and injured thousands of your citizens.”

Admittedly, this scenario is utopian. The idea of Palestinians apologizing to Israel is so heretical in prevailing political consciousness that only six Google entries mention such a gesture, compared with 615 entries citing “Israel must apologize.”

Yet, peace begins with ideas, and ideas are shaped by words. And the utopian scenario I painted above gives a feasible frame to reciprocal words that must be said, in one form or another, for a lasting peace to set in.

And if not now, when? Recall, we must keep the momentum going.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org) named after his son. He and his wife, Ruth, are editors of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Ed Guthman leaves legacy of fighting injustice


When Ed Guthman died Aug. 30 at the age of 89, the Los Angeles Jewish community lost one of its most distinguished members.

He had been a Pulitzer Prize- winning reporter. As press secretary to Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy, he braved danger in the South when the federal government forced recalcitrant states to integrate. Before that, he’d faced danger in combat in Italy during World War II.

Ed was an editor at the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was a beloved journalism professor at USC. He helped create and then headed the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

I don’t believe Ed was religious. We never discussed it. Our shared religious background was hardly mentioned when, in 1972, he assigned me to do a story that was of major interest to the Jewish community.

At the time, Republicans were mounting a quiet but intense campaign to persuade Jews to vote for President Richard M. Nixon on the grounds that he was Israel’s best friend. I told Ed I had a connection who might help, Louis Boyar, a cousin who was a major philanthropist, political contributor, supporter of the Jewish community and friend of Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel.

Ed assigned me the story. I had lunch with Boyar at the Hillcrest Country Club and reported what I had learned. It wasn’t enough, so Ed sent me east, first to the office of Jake Arvey, the retired Chicago political boss and a prominent Jew, and finally to the Israeli Embassy in Washington. The last stop, plus some other interviews, finally gave me enough information to satisfy Ed, and I wrote the story.

Looking back on the incident, what was striking was how little our being Jewish figured into the pursuit of the story, even though it would be widely discussed in the community. My memory of the story is how he urged me on until I got to the bottom of it.

That’s not unusual. A newsroom is a most secular place. In all my years in newsrooms, I can recall discussing religion with only one person, my friend Tim Rutten, a devout, although cynical, Catholic.

Such secularism, by the way, is one reason for journalism’s spotty coverage of religion. The United States is a highly religious country, but this is not reflected on television news or in mainstream publications.

But whether or not he was religious, Ed was a righteous man — although never self-righteous — who approached his tasks with a commitment to social justice, honesty and concern for society’s underdogs. There was something biblical about him, like those prophets who couldn’t let evil pass by without doing or saying something about it.

When he was honored by the Los Angeles City Council for his public service, he said he was grateful to his father, a German Jewish immigrant, for imbuing in him an obligation to serve.

“He always taught us that we had to give something back to this great country and the freedom we enjoy and experience,” he said.

I became friends with Ed at the Times, where he was national editor from 1965 to 1977.

It was a big job. Ed was in charge of a growing network of bureaus around the country, as well as the Washington bureau. In addition, he was responsible for a national desk, which edited the large number of stories that came in each day.

Ed took the best of this work into the daily news meetings, where the managing editor, after hearing the pitches of each of the editors, decided what would go on Page 1. Ed argued fiercely for his stories and was sometimes too intense for a group who seemed to take pride in being calm, laid back and uninvolved.

It was a tumultuous period, and Ed was in the middle of it. The Watts Riot of 1965 ushered in the era, followed by student rebellions in Berkeley and across the country and then demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In the middle of it were the assassinations, first of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and then Ed’s friend, Robert Kennedy. That occurred here in Los Angeles, the night Kennedy won the 1968 California Democratic primary.

Then there was Watergate. Ed’s leadership in the Times coverage and his association with Kennedy earned him a place high on Richard Nixon’s enemies list.

Ed’s office was one of several for editors at one end of the vast newsroom. He didn’t spend a lot of time in the office. When he was in there, he was on the phone with his correspondents around the country and in the Washington bureau.

But much of the time, he roamed through the newsroom, talking to reporters. He respected reporters and was curious about what they were working on and how they were going about it.

That’s how I became friendly with him. I covered politics, and Ed was intensely interested in what I was doing, from state elections to campaigns for City Council. He began arranging with my boss for me to do national stories for him.

In writing this sort of piece for a newspaper, a journalist looks for illuminating anecdotes that in three neat paragraphs can illustrate and explain the subject of a story.

Ed did not lend himself to anecdotes. He was forthright and plain in his speech. For a man of such accomplishment, he was extremely modest. In a business full of men and woman with huge egos, he didn’t boast of glory days of the past.

So I don’t have any great stories about Ed. What I took away from our friendship was a commitment to social justice and to fighting injustice. Long after he left the paper, I tried to carry on his tradition in my own work and, when I became an editor, in the work of my reporters. Many of them knew Ed and were inspired by him, as were his students at USC.

They are Ed’s legacy to journalism and his country.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Arrested development: Young Jewish activists voluntarily go to jail in support of union rights


Sarah Leiber Church and Laura Podolsky had big plans for the evening of Sept. 28 — getting arrested.

They were part of a protest march that took place along Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport aimed at hotels that allegedly have been preventing employees from unionizing. During the late afternoon, approximately 2,000 people marched down the major thoroughfare, cutting off traffic. In what has been called the largest act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles, more than 300 of those people later deliberately sat down in the street, were arrested and jailed for up to 24 hours.

Both Church and Podolsky say their Jewish heritage is an important motivation for their activism for labor rights.

“From a young age I learned there’s a really strong message [in Judaism] about the importance of standing up for justice, and the importance of being directly involved,” Podolsky said.

Both she and Church are members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a group dedicated to social justice in Los Angeles. Daniel Sokatch, executive director of PJA, estimates that the group had anywhere between 50 and 100 people present at the protest, and that about 10 of those were arrested.

One part of the PJA’s larger goal is to reexamine the meaning of “kosher” among the Jewish population of Los Angeles.

“We’re working to expand the definition of kosher for the Jewish community, to go beyond how food is prepared to how workers are treated in institutions,” said Jaime Rapaport, program director for PJA. For example, she said, “The LAX Hilton is not a kosher hotel. Their kitchen may be kosher, and they may serve kosher food, but the way they treat their workers is not kosher.”

Church, the PJA’s Bay Area program director, said the timing of the protest, during the holiest part of the year, added meaning to her participation.

“The time in the Jewish calendar was very important to me in making the decision to take the steps to risk arrest … it’s a time when you take stock of how you’ve treated people over the last year,” she said. “I can think of no better way to start off 5767 than by supporting hotel workers and hard-working immigrant families in their fight for dignity in the work place.”

The sentiment was echoed by many, including Rabbi Jason Van Leeuwen of B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester,who presided over a blessing of the challah in front of the Westin Hotel — one of three blessings that took place: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. The challahs used were round, he said, “as a symbol for the cycle of the year, but also as a symbol of a message to the hotel management — what goes around comes around.”

Church said the religious service had been a highlight of the march.

“They said, ‘We give you bread for the journey,’ and passed out challahs to everyone. I remember hearing from some of the women later that the bread was just exactly what they needed, because they were feeling a little faint; they were feeling a little scared, frankly, and they said that having something to eat whether or not they were Jewish was really important to them.”

When the marching stopped, the sitting began. Those being arrested sat down on Century Boulevard — the main thoroughfare to LAX — where the police warned them that, unless they moved, they faced arrest. All wore matching shirts that read, “I am a human” in English and Spanish, echoing signs held at the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. The 300 arrested offered no resistance as officers put them in plastic handcuffs.

En route to jail they sang songs.

“I wanted to lead songs in Hebrew and teach people, but it didn’t seem like the right environment,” Church said. “But we sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and we sang ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ in English and Spanish.”

Even as they were arresting the protesters, many police seemed supportive of the action.

“I was speaking to one of them who was taking my fingerprints,” Church said, “and he said, ‘You know, I think I support what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘You’re unionized, right?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, and if we weren’t I’d want you all to be out on the streets.'”

This was a first arrest for both Church and Podolsky.

“Jail is cold, dingy and boring,” Podolsky said. “But I would do it a lot more, if it were necessary in order to stand up for these issues.”

Other arrestees shared cells with prostitutes or drug dealers.

Both Church and Podolsky spent the night in jail in South Central, released at 3:30 and 6:30 a.m., respectively.

Van Leeuwen agreed that the action was in accordance with Jewish teachings.
“The Torah repeatedly tells us that we should love the stranger; that they should be subject to laws and rights we’re subject to,” he said.

Though tired from a long march and a night spent in jail, everyone seemed in good spirits by Friday, proud of what they had accomplished.

“It was an incredible experience, and it was also an uncomfortable experience
… it’s something that I look back on with pride,” Church said.
Said Podolsky, simply, “It’s a good way to be Jewish.”

Letters to the Editor 07-07-06


Converts
As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

Kosher
From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter June 16 convinced me I was wrong on all counts (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.”

In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
via e-mail

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

 

Young Lawyer Has a Ball With Bet Tzedek


As a young summer associate with a Los Angeles law firm, Jeffrey Sklar looked forward to attending his first Justice Ball. He wanted to see ’80s icon Billy Idol do the “Rebel Yell” live. He wanted to hang out with other young attorneys and law students. He wasn’t going for any high-minded motives.

Back in 2000, Sklar, like most of the 20- and 30-somethings who go to the annual Justice Ball, had only the vaguest notion of what Bet Tzedek, the event’s sponsor and a local Jewish legal-aid outfit, does. That would soon change.

Sklar, an attorney at Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP, went to the Ball and partied with friends. He also listened as Bet Tzedek executives briefly took the stage and talked up their organization and its need for dedicated volunteers to help society’s most vulnerable achieve a degree of justice. Their message resonated with Sklar, who, as a young boy, remembers dropping coins into his family’s tzedekah box. Now, six years later, Sklar is a regular legal volunteer, he’s helped recruit other lawyer friends to volunteer time, and he’s helping to plan this year’s event, which will take place July 8 at the Hollywood Palladium, featuring the Go-Go’s.

Founded in 1997, the Justice Ball has grown into one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit fundraisers/parties targeting young professionals, Jews and non-Jews alike. Over the past nine years, more than 16,000 attorneys, financiers and others have attended the soirees, and scores of them have gone on to become Bet Tzedek contributors and volunteers. Some, like Sklar, have gone on to serve on Bet Tzedek’s Justice Ball planning committee and even on to the board of directors, making the event more than just a fundraiser — it’s an important gateway to the organization.

“The Justice Ball is absolutely a good way for young blood to get involved,” said Bet Tzedek board member Brette Simon, a law partner at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP whose first exposure to the legal aid society came from attending the mega-parties.

To date, Justice Balls have raised more than $3.2 million in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, said Randall Kaplan, the Justice Ball’s creator and cofounder of high-tech giant Akamai Technologies, Inc. Last year’s event raised $425,000, or nearly 8 percent of Bet Tzedek’s $5.5 million budget, Executive Director Mitch Kamin said. This year, the 10th anniversary gala is expected to be even bigger. Hopes are the popular L.A. Go-Go’s will draw more than 3,000 revelers and raise as much as $500,000, Kamin said.

“Everyone in the philanthropic world is puzzling over how you engage the truly young generation of professionals who haven’t been necessarily taught by their parents that giving is part of their religious or social responsibility,” Kamin said. “This is a chance for us to introduce ourselves to them, give them initial exposure to Bet Tzedek and raise their consciousness.”

Bet Tzedek’s success at reaching the coveted demographic of young Jewish professionals comes as other Jewish organizations are struggling to do the same. Faced with the growing competition from non-Jewish nonprofits, Jewish charities are grappling with a generation that, because of intermarriage and assimilation, often considers itself more American than Jewish, experts said. With young Jews standing to inherit billions over the next 20 years, finding a way to appeal to their generosity is perhaps the greatest challenge faced by Jewish charities.

In Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek is not alone in its success in appealing to this group. Young leadership initiatives at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, including its Young Leadership Division and the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund of Los Angeles, now account for about $5 million, or nearly 5 percent of The Federation’s annual campaign, said Craig Prizant, The Federation’s executive vice president for financial resource development.

Still, The Federation’s strong showing appears to be the exception rather than the rule in the organized Jewish world. Simply put, the stodgy chicken-dinner fundraisers favored by so many Jewish philanthropies fail to bring young movers-and-shakers to the table. The MTV generation would rather rock ‘n’ roll all night long.

The Justice Ball gives them a chance to do just that, along with learning a thing or two about Bet Tzedek’s mission of offering free legal aid to the poor, sick, elderly and homeless.

Soon after his first Justice Ball, Sklar joined the group’s planning committee. Like others touched by Justice Balls before him, he went on to volunteer his legal services to Bet Tzedek, including assisting a Holocaust survivor obtain restitution from the Hungarian government.

“As a lawyer, you make a decent living. You get to sit up here in real tall buildings with a real nice view. You get to drive a real nice car,” he said. “So the bottom line is you need to give back, you have to get back. This is a great way for me to do so.”

For more information on the Justice Ball, visit www.thejusticeball.org.

 

The Circuit


Built to Last

Team Mortorq from Beverly Hills High School won two prestigious awards recently at a robotics competition: The Entrepreneurship Award and the Autodesk Visualization Award for animation.

The Entrepreneurship Award recognizes a team which, since its inception, has developed the framework for a comprehensive business plan in order to scope, manage and obtain team objectives. The team should also display entrepreneurial enthusiasm and the vital business skills for a self-sustaining program.

The Autodesk Visualization Award for Animation recognizes excellence in student animation that clearly and creatively illustrates the spirit of the first Robotics Competition.

The Beverly Hills High team also was scheduled to compete in Las Vegas.

Sherman Speaks

Nearly 200 visitors, community leaders and members of the local Iranian Muslim media gathered at the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills March 26 to hear speakers address the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian Jewish Federation, were panelists at the event.

Sherman, a member of the House International Relations Committee, discussed upcoming measures Congress will be taking to combat Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“It is unlikely that we can stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Sherman said. “Iran is subject to economic pressure and we must use our maximum economic and diplomatic steps to slow down and stop their ability to get these weapons.”

Kermanian’s discussion focused on the beliefs and core goals of Iran’s current regime to impose its fundamentalist Islamic ideologies on the West by use of force. Following their speeches, both speakers answered questions from the audience concerning Iran. Also in attendance was Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine. — Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Ain’t That a Kick?

Gold and silver were the colors of the day for New JCC at Milken’s Kenshokan Martial Arts Academy last month. The American Judo and Jujitsu Federation held its national convention and freestyle championships in San Ramon recently and in the youth division, Tyler Mclean came away with second place. Program instructor Gregory Poretz, who came back from a stunning upset in 2005 in last place was able to make a clean sweep of the black belt division and take the gold.

Sensei Poretz, Mclean and the rest of the Kenshokan will be training to defend their titles in 2007 in Santa Rosa.

For more information, visit

Suit Filed Over Police Shooting of Israeli


Nearly 20 months after Assaf Deri, an Israeli national, was shot and killed by Burbank police in a North Hollywood alley, his parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in L.A. Federal Court against Burbank and Los Angeles, both cities’ police departments, and officers involved in the incident.

“The conduct by Burbank police officers was clearly outrageous,” said attorney Robert Jarchi, who is representing Deri’s estate and parents, Pinchas and Yehudit Deri. “Burbank police officers targeted my clients’ son because of his Middle Eastern appearance.”

Deri is Jewish but could be perceived as a Muslim, the lawyer contended.

Police claim Deri was a suspect in a multiagency task force investigation into drug-trafficking, gangs and organized crime. But Jarchi insisted their claims are absurd.

“Assaf Deri was not involved in drug dealing or any other illegal activity. He didn’t drink or do drugs,” Jarchi said. “Police killed an innocent man who was just sitting in his Jeep. Anyone could find themselves in that position.”

The coroner’s exam found no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Deri’s system. The civil complaint, filed last week, also alleges violations of Deri’s federal and state civil rights, negligence, assault and battery and false arrest.

This wrongful death lawsuit comes one month after the L.A. district attorney’s office cleared Burbank undercover officers, Scott Meadows and Sgt. Jose Duran. The duo also was cleared last February by their department’s shooting review board, which found they were “defending themselves against death or serious injury.”

The long-delayed report, by the district attorney’s justice system integrity division also ruled that Meadows fired in self-defense, after Deri, 25, allegedly tried to drive his borrowed Jeep away from approaching officers. Meadows, whose leg was grazed by the Jeep during the incident, received medical treatment at a local hospital. Duran, the D.A.’s office found, had discharged his weapon to protect his partner.

LAPD robbery homicide detectives handled the field investigation because the shooting happened in Los Angeles. The North Hollywood alley where the incident occurred lies behind a row of apartment buildings on Oxnard Street near Los Angeles Valley College.

According to the LAPD investigation, Deri was the target of daylong surveillance on June 25, 2004, by Burbank police.

Meadows and Duran followed Deri as he drove into the alley and parked with his engine idling, behind one of the buildings. At about 10:30 p.m., Duran decided to stop Deri after deciding he was monitoring their surveillance of him.

The two Burbank officers allegedly approached Deri’s jeep and ordered him out. The officers claim Deri then drove toward Meadows. In self defense, they opened fire.

Meadows reportedly shot 13 rounds and Duran 10 rounds. According to the autopsy, Deri was hit nine times, including five shots to the head. Paramedics pronounced Deri dead at the scene at approximately 10:37 p.m.

The Deri family’s suit alleges Burbank police violated Assaf Deri’s constitutional rights by illegally detaining and shooting him to death. The suit also alleges Deri’s father, who was visiting from Israel, was wrongfully imprisoned during a warrantless search of his son’s North Hollywood apartment several hours after his death.

“Burbank officers compounded the problem by going to Assaf’s apartment without probable cause in a desperate attempt to find something to justify this fatal shooting,” Jarchi said. “There they made a fruitless search and ended up illegally detaining and handcuffing my client’s father.”

The federal suit specifies no dollar amount, but last year, the family submitted a $51 million claim against the cities of Los Angeles and Burbank, which both cities rejected. The family is seeking general and punitive damages for the loss of their son and his future support and reimbursement for the transport of the body to Israel, funeral and legal expenses, as well as compensation for counseling, lost wages and medical expenses incurred by Deri’s father.

The family is represented by Greene, Broillet & Wheeler, which has taken on local police cases before, including that of a Los Angeles woman who received $7.6 million after she was broadsided by a car being chased by LAPD officers and the case of a Long Beach man who was awarded $6.7 million after being shot by Long Beach police.

The city of Burbank, representing the police officers, denied any wrongdoing in the case. Los Angeles officials declined to comment pending a review of the lawsuit.

 

Disputed Film Draws Muted Response


For Rabbi Marvin Hier, suicide bombings are the modern-day plague. The founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center so condemns these acts of terror that he spoke to the late Pope John Paul II, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the chancellor of Austria to enlist their support in passing a U.N. resolution condemning suicide bombings as a crime against humanity.

Given Hier’s passion, one might expect him to denounce loudly the film, “Paradise Now,” as a work of propaganda. The movie, which seeks to humanize two would-be Palestinian suicide bombers dispatched by operatives to murder innocent Israelis, recently won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and received an Academy Award nomination in the same category.

Despite the subject matter of “Paradise Now,” Hier, himself a member of the academy, has yet to see the film, although he said he soon planned to and “didn’t feel good” about the movie’s premise.

Like the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League has no plans to protest the nomination of the controversial film. In fact, no large mainstream Jewish organization has called for a boycott.

In a measure of the acclaimed movie’s respectability in some quarters of the local Jewish community, the University of Judaism recently sponsored a screening of and panel discussion on “Paradise Now” that featured the film’s director, Hany Abu-Assad. The sold-out audience of nearly 500 clapped at the movie’s conclusion, which ends with a rage-filled Palestinian bomber getting ready to blow himself up on an a bus crowded with Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Abu-Assad said at the University of Judaism event that he opposes all suicide bombing attacks, even against soldiers. However, the director added that he came to understand how bombers can commit such acts after Israeli authorities detained him, without cause, he said, for three hours in the hot sun at a checkpoint.

To be sure, some conservative Jewish organizations have condemned the movie as an attempt to sanitize and justify a hateful terrorist act. They complain that “Paradise Now” seeks to blame for the proliferation of suicide attacks solely on Israel’s occupation, ignoring the dangerous grip of Islamic fundamentalism and the steady diet of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian schools and media.

“I’m surprised that major Jewish organizations have not studied this film more closely, if at all, and taken it more seriously as an effort to normalize suicide bombing as an acceptable response to poverty and depression,” said Roz Rothstein, executive director of Los Angeles-based StandWithUs, an international pro-Israel educational advocacy group, who has seen the film twice.

“What’s the point of this movie?” asked Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, headquartered in Washington, D.C. “We should be shining a light on the horrors of [suicide bombing] and the victims, rather than humanizing these heinous acts.”

Brooks has not seen “Paradise Now.”

A few Jewish groups have done more than simply verbally attack the film.

The American Jewish Congress (AJC), Pacific Southwest Region, hopes to take out an ad in the Hollywood Reporter to “make Academy members think twice before voting,” said local AJC Executive Director Gary Ratner. Israel Project, an international educational advocacy group, has helped an Israeli father of a 16-year-old suicide bombing victim place an article critical of “Paradise Now” in American newspapers, including the New York Daily News. The goal: to make sure “the voice of the victim is heard,” said Calev Ben-David, director of the project’s Jerusalem office.

In the opinion piece, Yossi Zur writes: “Nominating a movie such as ‘Paradise Now’ only implicates the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the evil chain of terror that attempts to justify these horrific acts.”

Liberal Jewish leaders, on the other hand, tend to share the critics’ consensus that the film is complex, nuanced and “an examination rather than a justification,” in the words of David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., an L.A.-based human relations organization. They argue that “Paradise Now” questions the morality and efficacy of terror attacks through a pivotal character named Suha, a female Palestinian human rights activist who condemns bombers for perpetuating the cycle of violence, behaving as immorally as the Israeli occupiers and for hardening the Jewish state’s resolve.

“I think it’s a credit to our community that institutions like the University of Judaism have held showings and that the community response has been thoughtful rather than reactionary,” said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a Jewish social justice organization with offices in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “I think most Jews who see the movie realize that it’s not about Jews in America or Israelis but an interesting insight into the bubble of Palestinian society.”

Perhaps the muted reaction from the American Jewish community stems from the fact that so few Jews have actually seen the film. Confined largely to art houses, “Paradise Now” earned a paltry $1.1 million from its late October release until its Oscar nomination.

Jewish groups might now also temper their reactions because of the lessons learned from “The Passion of the Christ.” The controversial and, some argued, anti-Semitic film about the last hours of Jesus’ life saw its box-office surge after Jewish critics began attacking it.

Boycotting “Paradise Now,” said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, “will only bring more publicity to this type of movie.”

Marc Ballon was moderator for the discussion following the University of Judaism’s screening of “Paradise Now.”

 

Activists Strategize on Hotel Contracts


The gala dinner was like many others at the Century Plaza Hotel, featuring festive centerpieces atop crisp tablecloths, well-dressed guests exchanging greetings and servers bustling about offering trays of beverages.

However, this event wasn’t actually inside the hotel. Set in front of the hotel on the Avenue of the Stars, which was blocked off, this banquet-in-the-street supported some 4,000 striking workers at seven Los Angeles hotels. The traffic-stopping April gathering was among a series of actions organized by a coalition of community groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), in support of an 11-month strike that ended in June.

The outcome was an important step forward for the union: It achieved a wage hike, continued health benefits and a short contract that will expire at nearly the same time as the contracts of other hotel workers in other parts of the country.

Last week saw the next round of activism — a transnational effort in support of hotel workers in eight cities fighting for a new contract in 2006.

On Wednesday, inspired by the success in Los Angeles, Jewish social justice organizations from the United States and Canada gathered at the hotel workers’ union headquarters just west of downtown. The strategy session was convened by New York-based Jewish Funds for Justice and Los Angeles’ Progressive Jewish Alliance. Representatives also attended from other Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, as well as from groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Paul, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. In mostly closed-door meetings, organizers discussed the tactics and the coalition building that worked in this year’s L.A. campaign and how the lessons would apply in other cities.

Organizers say that Jewish involvement has been a central fixture within the effort.

Jewish participation, particularly at the Century Plaza Hotel, was essential, said Maria Elena Durazo, president of the hotel workers local, UNITE HERE. The Century Plaza is sufficiently serious about Jewish clientele to maintain a sealed-off kosher kitchen, she said.

“There’s no doubt that if it had not been for the influence and the participation and the constant, constant communication of the Jewish organizations, the Century Plaza would not have settled,” Durazo said.

“The most important aspect of what we did there,” said Jaime Rapaport, the architect of PJA’s hotel worker support campaign, “was this national Jewish response to a campaign that’s addressing poverty.”

The national average median wage for housekeepers is $7.85 an hour, according to the union. Wages are higher where more hotels are organized: In New York, where hotels are 95 percent unionized, a housekeeper’s wages start at $19 an hour; in Los Angeles, with a 35 percent union density, housekeepers average $11.31.

“It’s not just about a contract fight,” UNITE HERE organizer Vivian Rothstein said. “It’s a national approach to address conditions for nonunion and union workers.”

But a hotel industry representative said the union activists are over-reaching with unrealistic demands and that they misrepresent how hotels treat their workers.

“The bulk of hotel workers are housekeepers. They make, under this contract, approximately $13.50 an hour,” said Fred Muir of the Hotel Employers Council, which represents seven unionized Los Angeles-area hotels. He points out that the contract also provides for a pension fund, paid health care and free meals at work.

The strategy on the hotel side has been to prevent union contracts across the country from expiring at the same time. Hotels gave ground on that issue in the last year. Beyond that, individual hotel chains have opposed union organizing and simply worked to hold down labor costs in a business environment that includes rising health-care costs.

The economics of the hotel industry are simple, Muir said. “How many rooms can you fill and how much can you charge for them? The money to pay everyone has to come from somewhere.”

Room rates in New York are twice what they are in Los Angeles, so workers in New York can be paid more than those in Los Angeles, he said.

The activists who gathered last week emphasized that they are trying to make their labor campaign about Jewish values. The meeting’s purpose was to link local Jewish groups to the union organizing in their cities, and, just as important, bring them together to develop “a common language, a common strategy, common goals that would enable us to speak in a louder and more aggregated voice,” said Daniel Sokatch of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. He wants to expand the notion of what constitutes “Jewish issues.”

“We want to put out there on the radar the notion that social justice is central to our identity as Jews,” he said.

The idea resonates with Simon Greer, who just six months ago took over as executive director of Jewish Funds for Justice. The foundation, which handles some $15 million annually, underwrote transportation and lodging costs for participants from the Jewish social justice organizations.

Greer said that the campaign seeks to boost hotel workers into the middle class. “As Jews in this country, the beneficiaries of America as an open society, we are obligated to do something for others in this society,” he said. “A piece of this is about how we reclaim justice as a centerpiece of Jewish identity in America.”

When Jews make choices that support social justice, he added, they are, in effect, expanding the notion of keeping kosher.

AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying


 

As some 1,250 delegates gather in Los Angeles under the banner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to celebrate the deepening ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen those ties through political activities, I am mindful of two who will not be there.

Two former AIPAC staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, will be back in Washington preparing for their January trial, which could be completed on the eve of AIPAC’s National Policy Conference in March. The timing is ironic given the loyal, instrumental roles that Rosen and Weissman played for AIPAC, and given the extent to which AIPAC has deserted them both.

These two individuals, in fact, deserve the unqualified support of both AIPAC and the Jewish community for their service to Jews and Israel — and also because they are, to all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing. The current criminal indictment arises out of nothing more than law enforcement entrapment. But even putting that aside, the former AIPAC staffers still acted in a logical, defensible and ethical matter. Jews should be rising to their defense, but there is, so far, only a shameful silence.

Rosen, a longtime Washington lobbyist, was the chief of AIPAC foreign-policy staff. Weissman was a specialist on Iraq. No one who knew Rosen would argue that he was the soul of AIPAC or its most visible public face, but all who came close to the organization swiftly understood that Rosen was its brains.

It was he who shaped the concept of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States, refashioning American support for Israel from that of a big brother assisting a poor relation to a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

It was he who shifted AIPAC from an organization that was solely centered on Congress to one that also lobbied the president, his officers and his advisers — in Democratic and Republican administrations alike — as well as the think tanks and policy wonks.

Rosen recognized that he ruffled too many feathers to be out front. So he groomed protégés to assume that role. He mentored one so well that he became the head of AIPAC; another became the first Jew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

One cannot overestimate his importance to the organization and his contribution to it over the past two decades.

One did not have to agree with his politics or AIPAC’s — as I certainly did not — to recognize the genius: While everyone was focusing on Iraq, he was concerned about Iran and North Korea. Anyone in his position traffics in information, seeking to understand what is known, attempting to fathom what is on the mind of government officials both in the United States and abroad.

What happened with Rosen and Weissman is simple enough. They were set up.

They are victims of a sting operation that relied on government analyst Lawrence Franklin, a compromised source who was in trouble for allegedly keeping unauthorized classified information at home. In order to win a more lenient sentence, he carried out an FBI plan to tell Rosen and Weissman about “secret information” that Israeli operatives were to be attacked in Iraq. Lives were seemingly at stake. Real lives, Jewish lives of people allied with the United States and presumably working in Iraq with the knowledge and consent of the United States, in alliance with the United States. Remember, this information came from a U.S. government analyst. And they had every reason to presume that he was giving them information both with permission and for a purpose.

Not surprisingly, Rosen and Weissman tried to check this information out. At one point, they apparently sought to see what a journalist covering Iraq knew. They also warned Israeli officials of the clear and immediate danger to their operatives. We now know that Franklin’s information was false and manufactured, with the specific goal of ensnaring Rosen and Weissman.

Of course that wasn’t the impression created when CBS broke its sensational account on Aug. 27, 2004, courtesy of a leak from either the FBI and/or Department of Justice.

Elements of the evidence remain shrouded in secrecy — the defendants are currently challenging the government’s attempts to conceal their own statements made on wiretaps.

Why would the U.S. government obstruct the defense in this way?

One plausible explanation is that Rosen and Weissman will recognize the circumstances in which their words were recorded and hence understand the scope of the federal surveillance — not just of them but also of those with whom they were in contact. One wonders: Does the U.S. typically spy on Israeli diplomats or diplomats of other countries?

We shall soon learn whether the government will drop the charges rather than reveal its evidence. The surveillance apparently lasted for five years and yielded such meager results that the defendants had to be entrapped into committing an alleged crime. If they were really up to something, investigators should have found it without the FBI having to engage in a Hollywood-style stunt — fictionalizing a scenario and manufacturing a crime.

This is not the Jonathon Pollard Affair redux. Pollard was a paid agent of the Israeli government who transmitted classified information to Israel. And unlike with the legal principle at stake in the Valerie Plame case, there was no possibility that lives would have been endangered by this leak; no sources were compromised. Unlike Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, Rosen and Weissman wanted to save lives, not weaken political opponents.

Yet AIPAC has run for cover; so have too many Jews. Some members of AIPAC’s own leadership are under the impression that the organization has actively defended its former employees. The word on the street, however, is that Rosen and Weissman have been hung out to dry. AIPAC bylaws require that the organization cover their legal defense, yet Rosen’s lawyers and Weissman’s lawyers have not been paid in many months. A reporters committee has come out against the indictment; a scientific group has challenged the secrecy provisions. But unless I’ve missed something, American Jewish organizations have been virtually mute.

We should be outraged by the setup!

We should be outraged by the selective prosecution — Rosen and Weissman are the first to be charged under the provision of the law being cited. Maybe it’s truly AIPAC and the vaunted American-Israeli alliance that is on trial or that is the actual target.

So why the hushed, muted tones of organizational leaders?

I leave it to their able lawyers to make the legal case for Rosen and Weissman, but the moral case also is compelling. From the standpoint of Jewish principles and tradition, the saving of human lives is an essential.

The Bush administration — or at least some within it — seems determined to crack down on the dissemination of government information, even if it impedes the public’s right to know or the right of citizens to participate in the process.

The Jewish community should not be timid in taking a different view. We dare not be sidelined.

Michael Berenbaum is adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, whose mission is to explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.

 

 

 

 

 


All About AIPAC


How to Polish a Tarnished Image

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad AIPAC?

Looking for a Shining Star

Summit Tackles Iran Nukes, College Strife

Bob Dylan: In His Own Lyrics


Torah References:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”

Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”

God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”

God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but

The next time you see me comin’ you better run:

Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing’ done?”

God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

— From “Highway 61 Revisited” on the album, “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965)

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed

Dignity never been photographed

I went into the red, went into the black

In the valley of dry bone dreams

…Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take

To find dignity

— From “Dignity” on the album, “Under the Red Sky” (1991)

Reference to Jewish Liturgy:

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you….

— From “Forever Young” on the album, “Planet Waves” (1973)

Christian Reference:

I was blinded by the devil

Born already ruined

Stone-cold dead

As I stepped out of the womb

By His grace I have been touched

By His word I have been healed

By His hand I’ve been delivered

By His spirit I’ve been sealed

— From “Saved” (with Tim Drummond) on the album, “Saved” (1980)

Allusions to Jesus:

You’re a man of the mountains, you can walk on the clouds

Manipulator of crowds, you’re a dream twister

You’re going to Sodom and Gomorrah

But what do you care?

Ain’t nobody there would want to marry your sister

Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame

You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name

— From “Jokerman” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

Pro-Israel, Pro-Jewish Reference:

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land

He’s wandered the earth an exiled man

Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn

He’s always on trial for just being born

He’s the neighborhood bully

— From “Neighborhood Bully” on the album, “Infidels” (1983)

On Social Justice:

Come you masters of war

You that build all the guns

You that build the death planes

You that build the big bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

— From “Masters of War” on the album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963)

On Faith in God:

Father of grain, Father of wheat

Father of cold and Father of heat

Father of air and Father of trees

Who dwells in our hearts and our memories

Father of minutes, Father of days

Father of whom we most solemnly praise

— From “Father of Night” on the album, “New Morning” (1970)

Source: “Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001” (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

 

Juvenile Offenders Taste Teshuvah


The slightly built, 13-year-old Latino boy sitting in the Starbucks near downtown Los Angeles didn’t know much about teshuvah, the Jewish notion of repentance.

But it lies at the heart of L.A.’s Jewish Community Justice Project, and it kept this scared kid with the tremulous smile from a likely stint in juvenile boot camp for throwing rocks at a police car.

Instead of going before a judge, the boy was brought face-to-face with the policeman whose car he’d damaged, and in a two-hour meeting facilitated by two trained mediators, he had to tell the cop he was sorry.

Then he had to pledge to make restitution by working a set number of hours for his parents and a local gardening firm to pay $200 for a new car window.

“I felt nervous in that room,” the boy admitted. “I told him I was stupid, and not thinking about what I was doing at that moment. He was kind, he was a good person. He told me to thank my parents for raising me.”

It was the first time the boy had worked for money, and his mother said he was tempted to keep the first $50 he made.

“But I told him, ‘You have to take care of your responsibilities first,'” she said.

The Jewish Community Justice Project is a partner of the Centinela Valley Juvenile Diversion Project, which has been running a victim-offender restitution program in Los Angeles since 1992.

Four years ago, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles funded the joint project between Centinela and two L.A.-based Jewish groups, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish recovery program.

According to the agreement, the PJA trains volunteers to mediate in cases forwarded by local law enforcement and juvenile courts. There currently are almost 60 Jewish volunteer mediators.

“The alliance with PJA has been so exciting because they’ve recruited motivated, dedicated volunteers,” said Steve Goldsmith, Centinela’s executive director. “The religious component, the education of teshuvah, really keeps the people motivated.”

The mediation project is based on the legal concept of restorative justice, according to which offenders must take personal responsibility for their crimes and make restitution directly to those they have offended.

Participants say it dovetails neatly with the Talmudic notion of teshuvah, which specifies that one must seek forgiveness from those one has wronged before asking God’s forgiveness, something Jews are meant to do every year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“Part of teshuvah is attending to what one did, and turning to the person who was hurt or offended to see whether you can come back to an open relationship with that person and their family,” said Rabbi Richard Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Levy helped create the Jewish part of the curriculum — eight hours of Jewish text study on justice and forgiveness — for the volunteer training program.

Daniel Sokatch, director of the PJA, said he brought his organization into the program in 2002, when Los Angeles became the nation’s murder capital.

“We realized that most of the murders were in the 310 area code, home to most of the Jews who don’t live in the Valley,” Sokatch said.

The most affected neighborhoods weren’t those where many Jews live, Sokatch said, but “it’s still our city, and in the words of Jeremiah, you must work for the welfare of the city where you live and there find your own well-being.”

Cases involving murder aren’t eligible for mediation. Most of the what comes to Centinela involves petty theft, vandalism, bullying and similar crimes.

One of the hardest parts of the program is making sure that appropriate cases are referred to them. There were 45,000 youths arrested last year in Los Angeles, Goldsmith said, yet Centinela received only 600 to 700 referrals.

To address that problem, Sokatch said, the next volunteer training program in early 2006 will include a separate, less-intensive track for volunteers, who will learn how to schmooze intake cops, “visit them every week, bring doughnuts and coffee and review the docket with them” to ensure that fewer juvenile offenders slip through the cracks.

Jordan Susman, a former television writer and filmmaker, was in Sokatch’s first group of volunteer mediators.

“I felt that’s what a Jewish organization should do,” said Susman, who is now a third-year law student. “It appeals to my Jewish point of view. The juvenile justice system is beyond broken — once you’re in the system, you learn how to be a better criminal. This is about breaking that cycle.”

Keren Markuze, a documentary television writer, has mediated about a dozen cases since her training last year.

“Jewish law is very big on giving people chances,” she said. “Let’s do everything we can to make sure the punishment is appropriate, especially when we talk about children.”

Jewish law also takes intention into consideration when looking at crime, Markuze noted. She described one case she mediated in which a boy stole pants, a shirt and shoes from a department store.

During the mediation, the boy confessed in tears that his mother was laid off and couldn’t afford to buy him a new school uniform, and he was tired of being humiliated by the other kids at school for his clothes.

“That’s an issue of economic justice,” Markuze proclaimed. “Of course, he had to learn that stealing is not a solution, but for him to end up in the conventional justice system would have been tragic.”

Restorative justice programs exist in many cities around the world, according to several Web sites devoted to the topic. And it’s not about feeling sorry for kids — statistics show that such programs work.

According to the Center for Restorative Justice and Mediation at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, recidivism rates are lower following mediation than following traditional punishment. Approximately 80 percent of young offenders who participated in mediation complete their restitution to their victims, compared to just 58 percent of offenders who were ordered to do restitution by the courts, but who did not sit face-to-face with those they had wronged.

“When you go to court, you’re not sitting across from your victim, forced to look them in the eye and hear what they have to say to you,” Markuze said. “It’s very powerful.”

Susman said he has his young offenders “do the math” to figure out the number of jobs lost because of crimes like theirs every year in Los Angeles. When they realize it’s their parents and friends who are losing those jobs, it “really affects them,” he said.

In the L.A. mediation project, Goldsmith said, about 70 percent of juvenile offenders complete their restitution pledges. He pointed to a study done by California’s Supreme Court that found the re-arrest rate was half that of young criminals who did not go through mediation.

“It helps divert kids from the court system, and it actually shows a pretty good success rate of keeping kids out,” said Michael Nash, presiding judge of L.A. County Juvenile Court. “Not every kid needs to be brought into the court system if there’s another way they can be

held accountable, make restitution to the victim and develop a sense of responsibility.”

The mediators take away something from it as well. For Susman, who said he and his wife are “always looking for ways to incorporate more Judaism” into their lives, acting as a court mediator “is where my Judaism is expressed existentially through the actions I do.”

Markuze said she often “feels ambivalent” after a mediation, “because there’s so much more we as a society could be doing.”

Sometimes she feels the juveniles “aren’t really contrite.” But overall, she said, “I feel good I’ve given someone a chance to make amends.”

The next volunteer mediator training session will be held in the spring. For information, contact www.pjalliance.org.

 

Wiesenthal’s Work Beyond Words


Simon Wiesenthal devoted his life to tracking down Nazi war criminals, and his life and that effort unfold in a new exhibit at Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance.

Wiesenthal died last week at 96 at his home in Vienna, and this exhibit was quickly but lovingly put together at the museum, which is part of the L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. The center, though named for Wiesenthal, was not founded nor run by him. Yet there’s an indelible connection between the center’s work and Wiesenthal’s own mission — and he donated many personal effects to the museum.

The exhibit’s powerful collection of photographs, awards and artifacts is a virtual walk through history with Wiesenthal, seemingly, as your personal guide. There are his personal pencil sketches of the camp as well as photos and handwritten notes.

One photo is of an American flag, fashioned by the prisoners from scraps of clothing, before American soldiers liberated the camps. The flag contains 56 stars because the prisoners were unsure how many states were in the United States.

“They handed the flag to the American soldiers when they walked into the camps as a gift for setting them free,” exhibit curator Eric Saul said.

Wiesenthal and his wife, Cyla, were among the camp survivors, though they lost dozens of family members. By the end of the war, the couple had been forcibly separated, and each believed the other was dead. The exhibit’s treasures include notes written by Wiesenthal and his wife after the war, but before they were reunited. There’s also archival material from each of their childhoods. Cyla died in 2003.

Wiesenthal, who was barely alive when liberated, began his Nazi-hunting quest as soon as his health permitted. He first began the process of gathering and preparing evidence on Nazi atrocities for the War Crimes Section of the U.S. Army. He worked for the Army’s Office of Strategic Services and Counter-Intelligence Corps and headed the Jewish Central Committee of the U.S. Zone of Austria, a relief and welfare organization.

As the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified, both sides lost interest in prosecuting Germans, and Wiesenthal’s volunteers, succumbing to frustration, drifted away to more ordinary pursuits. In 1954, the office in Linz was closed and its files were given to the Yad Vashem Archives in Israel, except for the dossier on Adolf Eichmann, who, as chief of the Gestapo’s Jewish Department, had supervised the implementation of the “Final Solution.”

Wiesenthal never gave up on tracking down Eichmann or others, determined that the world wouldn’t forget those who died. He worked out of a small office in his home using telephone books to track down war criminals, many of whom hadn’t even bothered to change their names after the war.

According to Museum of Tolerance Director Liebe Geft, when Wiesenthal found a Nazi criminal — and no one would pursue the suspect — he would hold a press conference to shame the world into it.

His efforts paid off in the apprehension of some 1,100 war criminals. Through Wiesenthal’s work, Israeli agents eventually captured Eichmann and brought him to Israel to stand trial. He was ultimately convicted and executed. The exhibit includes a rogue’s gallery of the war criminals he helped to expose and bring to justice.

Wiesenthal wanted everything to proceed according to law. He opposed the hit squads formed by some survivors who sought to kill Nazis after the war.

“He didn’t believe that was right,” exhibit curator Saul said. “He believed becoming murderers wasn’t the answer, but bringing them to trial would better serve the memories of the dead.”

Saul recalled Wiesenthal’s explanation that he was out for justice rather than revenge, and an assurance the world would never forget: “Wiesenthal would often say, ‘Every day is remembrance day for me.'”

A refusal to bequeath collective guilt on the entire German nation made Wiesenthal a popular speaker among German youth.

The exhibit, Geft said, is a poignant reminder of a time the world would have chosen to forget, if not for Wiesenthal and a few others.

According to Saul, although Wiesenthal only achieved a 10 percent success rate on convictions, he was not daunted. It was all about the process of justice for him.

“When people view this exhibit, they should realize that not all, but a little justice was done,” Saul said.

Wiesenthal refused a salary for his work and lived instead off royalties from his books.

The 12 books he authored are displayed, along with honorary diplomas and certificates from various universities. Numerous magazine articles chronicling his work are prominent throughout the exhibit.

He was as little concerned with honors as with money. Saul recalled visiting Wiesenthal’s home and finding that he kept his medals and awards under his bed, collecting dust.

“He was however, proud of his distinguished award from the Polish government, the highest they could bestow on a citizen. It meant something to him because Poland was his homeland,” Saul said.

Some of these medals also are shown in the exhibit.

Not everyone was a fan. On display, among the letters from dignitaries and admirers, is hate mail. At least twice, bombs were placed at his doorstep.

The exhibit also portrays a private side of Wiesenthal, including his stamp collection. But this hobby found its way into his work.

“It was the stamp collecting that led him to Eichmann when he realized he could track war criminals through postmarks,” Saul said.

Geft said she hopes to create a permanent Wiesenthal exhibit as part of the Museum of Tolerance.

“Maybe some child will visit this exhibit and step forward to become another Simon Wiesenthal,” Geft said. “We encourage everyone to come and sign the book and write a message to keep his work and the memory alive.”

Saul said Wiesenthal once told him, “When I go to heaven and they ask what I did on earth, some will say ‘baker, laborer, doctor.’ I will say, ‘I never forgot you’ to the 6 million I will meet there.”

But the photos and archives also underscore Wiesenthal’s service to future generations. He once said, “The only value of nearly five decades of my work is a warning to the murderers of tomorrow, that they will never rest.”

Simon Wiesenthal Exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Free with museum admission. For more information, call (310) 553-9036 or visit

Jews Forced to Flee Arabs Want Redress


Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel are preparing to launch a new campaign for restitution.

Meeting in London at a forum organized by the World Organization for Jews From Arab Countries and Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, Jewish representatives from 14 nations met for two days last week to create the steering committee for the International Campaign for Rights and Redress.

The group plans to conduct an international advocacy and public education campaign on the heritage and rights of former Jewish refugees, documenting human rights violations against those who fled Arab countries, as well as their lost assets.

The director of the justice group, Stanley Urman, said the summit was a landmark occasion.

“It is a commitment by Jewish communities in 14 countries on five continents to once and for all document the historical injustice perpetrated against Jews in Arab countries,” he said. “It is not just a theoretical and educational exercise; it is concrete.”

Supported by the Israeli government, the plan also has the backing of Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe and Australia, with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International and the World Sephardi Congress involved.

“We are delighted to play a key role in this crucial project,” said Henry Grunwald, president of British Jewry’s umbrella group, the Board of Deputies. “The plight of Jews from Arab countries is all too often a cause that we in the wider Jewish community forget, and we must act to educate and raise awareness of this important issue.”

Organizers long have been unhappy that the issue of Palestinian refugees largely has eclipsed the question of the nearly 900,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries around the 1948 creation of the State of Israel. They want the Jewish refugees’ fate addressed as well in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Approximately 600,000 of these refugees settled in Israel; by 2001, fewer than 8,000 Jews remained in Arab countries. The displaced Jews were recognized as refugees by the United Nations, but there was virtually no international response to their plight.

The only way that the rights of former Jewish refugees can be asserted, organizers believe, is through an international advocacy campaign. They will launch the campaign in March with a special month of commemoration to highlight the torture, detention, loss of citizenship and seizure of property suffered by many Jewish refugees.

“This is a milestone in the effort to address the historic injustice to the Jewish communities in Arab countries,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We hope that this renewed, unified campaign will not only succeed in creating a comprehensive data bank, but will also put this issue on the agenda of the international community, which has neglected it for so long.” Data on the communal and individual assets lost in the mass displacements — incorporating public education, the collection of testimonies and programs to lobby media and governments — will be collected and preserved in a special unit established in Israel’s Ministry of Justice.

Urman declined to speculate on the value of the Jewish refugees’ assets, insisting that the fundamental issue was justice rather than compensation. Redress might come in many forms, he said, from a commitment to protect and preserve historical Jewish sites in Arab lands to the endowment of chairs at universities to preserve Middle Eastern Jewish culture.

In Iraq, the Jewish community numbered around 140,000 before being mostly dispersed in the 1950s. Like many others in his community, Maurice Shohet, president of Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi Jewish community in New York, abandoned his possessions when he fled Iraq with his family in 1970 at age 21.

The combined assets Iraqi Jewry left behind now could be worth billions of dollars. When the U.S.-led Iraq War began in 2003, the prospect of an elected, post-Saddam government offered some hope of restitution for the community.

But “so far, all we are hearing is the voice of the insurgents,” said Shohet, who visited his hometown of Baghdad last year, but cut short his trip because of violence.

With divisions rampant within Iraq society and the government still going through a transition period, compensation still seems far away. Yet that makes the issue more urgent, Urman said.

After Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there might also be a new impetus toward fresh talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If Gaza results in renewed commitment by the Palestinian Authority to advance serious peace negotiations, it will have moved us forward to a resolution of both the Arab and Jewish refugee issues,” Urman said. “But it’s a big if.”

 

High Court Hears Prison Religion Case


  

The U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to side with American Jewish organizations advocating for religious minorities’ rights in prison.

While it’s impossible to determine how the high court justices will rule later this year, Jewish organizational officials who listened to oral arguments Monday were pleased with questioning that suggested the justices support provisions in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, that require prisons to accommodate inmates’ religious requests if possible. Those provisions are being challenged by the state of Ohio.

“The court seemed to have pushed aside their strongest arguments,” Marc Stern, counsel for the American Jewish Congress, said of Ohio’s case.

Stern served as co-counsel for the petitioners, who represented the Bush administration and several prison inmates. Jewish groups generally came down on the side of the petitioners and in favor of religious accommodation in prison.

The petitioners stressed the need for a broad law that would give religious minorities the same rights of religious expression as those enjoyed by Christians in prison. But the justices appeared concerned about laws that would condone overly specific definitions of religious expression, such as dietary or literature requests, fearing they could allow for covert discrimination.

“Is there anything really at stake beyond saying, ‘Treat us the same as you would treat mainstream religions?'” Justice John Paul Stevens asked Douglas Cole, Ohio’s state solicitor.

Several times, justices and attorneys referred to prisoners’ rights to receive kosher meals as an example of religious interests that should be fulfilled.

The case, Cutter vs. Wilkinson, challenges the constitutionality of RLUIPA, which passed Congress with the strong support of Jewish groups in 2000. The law says prisons should not impose substantial burdens on religious expression, unless there is a compelling governmental interest. It also says prisons should use the “least restrictive means” of furthering the government’s interest.

The court’s decision could have implications beyond prisons. The legislation requires the government to have a compelling reason if it denies religious organizations reasonable land use. If the court strikes down the existing law, the land-use provision would be defeated, too.

The case before the court stems from complaints by members of several fringe religions — Wicca, Asatru and the Church of Jesus Christ — who filed lawsuits after being denied the ability to worship and buy religious books and ceremonial items in prison.

Though Jews make up a small proportion of the prison population, they often are discriminated against and denied religious materials, such as kosher meals and tefillin, advocates for Jewish prisoners say.

A U.S. district court in Ohio ruled for the plaintiffs in 2001, saying the act did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the state from endorsing a particular religion, because government is allowed to alleviate its own interference with religion.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the decision in 2003, arguing that the legislation unfairly advances religion by “giving greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights.”

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a broader version of the legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, ruling that Congress did not have the authority to enact a law that the court said infringed on states’ rights.

Advocates for RLUIPA believe that the new law has standing based on Congress’ role in regulating how federal dollars are spent.

“If the federal government is going to provide over $1 million for prison meals, then certainly the federal government can ensure that kosher meals are provided,” acting U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement said Monday in court, citing a hypothetical figure.

Ohio’s Cole conceded that some religious accommodation, including kosher meals, could be viewed as legitimate, but expressed concern that RLUIPA gives a higher status to religious requests than to prisoners’ other requests. That amounts to an implicit endorsement of religion, he argued, especially in an environment like a prison, where many liberties are withheld.

“It’s insufficient because it doesn’t change the underlying fact that a request itself is treated differently and better because it is a religious request,” Cole said.

Cole questioned whether the law would lead prisoners to express religious beliefs in order to gain rights and privileges. Cole also said prisons would have to determine what are bona fide religions and would have to find less obstructive alternatives if requests for religious accommodation were denied for security reasons.

But many of the justices did not seem to feel that the act imposed an undue burden on prisons.

“Someone has to say what the lines are,” Justice Antonin Scalia said, asking whether wardens or federal judges should be the ones to decide.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed concern that inmates could request racist literature under the guise of religion, or that prisoners could refuse to be housed with people of other races.

But David Goldberger, the attorney for the inmates who filed the case, said prisons would be covered by the fact that the statute allows prisons to exert a compelling government interest.

“Everybody understands that there are unique dangers involved in religious liberty in prisons,” Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said after the hearing. “But this statute does not require wardens to permit dangerous activities. It’s a balancing test, and the law affords due deference to those types of interests.”

 

‘Heaven’s’ Mysterious Spirits


Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has done his part to keep the Jewish people, well, literate, by publishing such erudite tomes as “Biblical Literacy” (William Morrow, 1997) and “Jewish Literacy” (William Morrow, 1991). But it seems he also wants to keep us amused on airplanes, which is why he moonlights as a mystery novelist. He recently published his fourth mystery, “Heaven’s Witness” (The Toby Press), a page-turning whodunit about a creepy serial killer who has a thing for young, pretty girls stuck on Los Angeles canyon roads.

On the killer’s trail is psychoanalyst Jordan Geller, who is drawn into the case after a woman he hypnotizes assumes the identity of one of the murder victims — who was killed several years before the woman’s birth. The book, which Telushkin co-wrote with Allen Estrin, is peppered with talmudic and biblical axioms, and raises some lofty questions about the nature of the afterlife and what happens to us after we die.

Telushkin said that he was inspired to write the book, which CBS plans to bring to the small screen in fall 2005, after he conducted a hypnotic regression with a friend of his who went back to a life in the year 1853.

“She spoke in 19th century American English using odd terminology,” said Telushkin, who has also been the spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts since 1993. “When I asked her if she was married, she complained ‘that the men here are so refractory.’ She used names of relatively obscure 19th century figures, who, after months of research, I was able to trace.”

Telushkin said that he is “open” to the idea of reincarnation, and that writing mysteries does have religious implications.

“The genre of mysteries, like the world of religion, still insists that there is a right and wrong, that not everything is relative,” he said. “You might be able to explain the reason why somebody has committed a crime, but, still, it is imperative to the genre that the person is caught, and that justice should prevail.”

For more information on “Heaven’s Witness,” visit www.heavenswitness.com.

When We Elected Lindbergh


“The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, $26).

Reading “The Plot Against America,” I thought of two other demented visions of the country, Mad Magazine, and Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” a speculative history like Roth’s, about America after the Germans and Japanese have won the war, when collectors of Mickey Mouse memorabilia are looking for fakes. Mad may be a weird association, but this is nothing if not the weirdest time of our lives, and there is a great long Roth sentence in “The Plot Against America” that no writer born after the war is capable of writing with a straight face. It’s on the third page, “The men worked 50, 60, even 70 or more hours a week; the women worked all the time….” In the 1950s, Mad Magazine was a vaccine against the lies of official America; it gave commercial-free clarity about the manipulations we suffered, to those of us driven mad by the times, but with the terrible side effects of bitterness, irony, skepticism and, finally, disgust with the country — and then with our parents.

But Roth was born to a generation that believed in America, and although some of them were like the undertaker in the first scene of “The Godfather,” who also believed in America, but went outside the courts for justice — Roth’s parents love their country, or what they remember of it.

In the novel, after the fascist Charles Lindbergh’s election as president, they bring 7-year-old Philip and his 12-year-old brother, Sandy, to Washington, D.C., where they visit the monuments, out of love for the threatened promise. And for being a loudmouthed Jew, Herman Roth is thrown out of his hotel. It is impossible to imagine a Baby Boomer writing a book so critical of America and still write, without irony, about the sincerity of Herman Roth’s love for America, his faith in the promise he could already see was broken.

This is the most cynical time in American history. In such a time, endless injustice leaves little room for private emotions like sadness and disappointment, only frustration and outrage. No novelists since the pre-war generation, except the artists of outrage, the specialists in horror and crime, and those who understand the private worlds of the powerless and helpless, the fantasy and romance writers, have found the sources of emotional energy necessary to fill shelves with as many books as Roth has. This is why “The Plot Against America,” a book of social outrage in response to a country losing itself to fear, is the first of Roth’s novels to brush against genre, and why he had to write about today in the frame of pure imagination, and also why a fiction had to be narrated by Philip Roth and not David Kepesh or Nathan Zuckerman, his literary alter egos.

Zuckerman’s books include “American Pastoral,” “I Married a Communist” and “The Human Stain,” books about the changes in American history and how we live with them as private traumas. Roth follows Kafka and Orwell in 1984, who never named the specific politics that they abstracted to create parallel universes of pure allegory, so a novel about the Bush administration, to make something real out of our current unreality, had to be set in some other universe. A fictional character narrating a fantasy would have lost the novel’s special poignancy, the unexpected emotions of a coming of age story, so Philip Roth, real at least in name, narrates instead of Zuckerman.

The story isn’t too complicated. Philip is a precocious third-grader in 1940. He lives in a small apartment in Weequahic, N.J., with his father, mother, brother and 21-year-old cousin, Alvin, his parents’ ward. Everyone in his world is Jewish, and almost no one is religious. Everyone is patriotic: “Our homeland was America. Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.”

Lindbergh is elected on a platform to keep America out of the European War. The East Coast establishment of the Roosevelts mock Lindberg’s appeal to the people who don’t live in the big cities, and are surprised at the landslide. The red states win.

The book follows the expected structure of a speculative history, the entertainment is the flow of differences between what really happened and what the book describes, every change ringing congratulations for our recognizing it. That Walter Winchell is the book’s political hero, the voice of opposition, is delicious only to readers who remember the name. I suppose that younger readers will recognize what remains of him in Howard Stern, already harassed away from commercial radio, as though his vulgarity is unique, as though the reasons aren’t political.

Life is normal, then it changes a little, and then everything changes: “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.”

Herman Roth loses his job to anti-Semitism, gets a night job through Jewish gangster connections and protects his family. The government establishes the Office of American Absorption, and Sandy is shipped to live for a few months with a family of tobacco farmers in Kentucky as part of the Just Folks program, spreading Jews harmlessly around the country. Cousin Alvin runs to Canada to join the army in its fight against the Germans and comes back with a missing leg. Some Jews emigrate.

Stakes Loom Big in Future of High Court


The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) gets it and so does the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. Both groups have made careful scrutiny of the Bush administration’s judicial nominations a top priority in the past year.

Groups on the religious right get it, as well: Almost nothing President Bush does during his about-to-begin second term will affect the American future as profoundly as his appointments to the courts.

Already, the president has appointed more than 200 conservative federal judges. Now, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist ailing and several other Supreme Court justices talking about retirement, most observers expect two to four high-court openings in the next four years.

It’s an issue with enormous importance to the Jewish community, but traditional communal caution may keep Jewish organizations — with those two exceptions — on the sidelines. And that could ultimately compound the damage done to key concerns of the Jewish community.

Last week’s presidential election represented a political coming of age for the Christian right, which turned out in force to ensure the re-election of Bush and help elect a more conservative Congress. Now, those groups expect payback. And increasingly, what they want most is more conservative judges who share their perspective on the nation’s culture wars.

They understand this fundamental truth: While legislation can change day-to-day political realities, the courts — and the Supreme Court in particular — change the very fabric of American democracy.

Legislation to implement priorities like public funding for religious education and social services, curbs on abortion and restrictions on homosexual rights is difficult to pass and always involves compromises infuriating to the purists. Legislation, too, can be undone by future Congresses when the political pendulum swings back.

But a transformed federal judiciary can affect policy in a much more powerful and enduring fashion. Rehnquist, appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1971, has influenced American life for 32 years under seven chief executives.

Congress often lurches off in new directions when elections alter the partisan balance. The court sometimes reverses course, but ponderously — as the Founding Fathers intended.

Conservatives know this, which is why they plan to press their advantage with a president they played a pivotal role in re-electing. And the results could be dramatic.

When lawmakers balked at Bush’s sweeping faith-based initiatives, the president simply implemented sweeping programs to funnel government money to private charities through executive action.

Many of those programs are being contested in federal court, where some cases will be heard by the president’s conservative appeals court judges. A Supreme Court with a few new Bush appointees could turn those programs into permanent reality for America.

Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, hangs by a judicial thread. One or two new Bush appointees to the Supreme Court will almost certainly snap it.

The current court, narrowly divided, has moved cautiously in allowing government money to go to parochial schools — something favored by Orthodox groups, opposed by most other Jewish organizations. Bush appointees could help the court throw that caution to the wind.

Christian groups have limited their activism on behalf of school prayer in recent years because of restrictive high court rulings, but already, there is talk in evangelical circles about new school prayer proposals to take advantage of the expected changes in the court.

Christian conservatives say that the biggest threat to the nation now is gay marriage, and they fully expect a new court — possibly headed by Justice Clarence Thomas — to slam the door firmly shut on such partnerships. If they succeed, it will be the nation’s first major retreat after decades of progress on civil rights, a troubling development for other minorities.

Hate crime statutes favored by a range of Jewish groups have been under assault from the religious right and could also be in jeopardy.

The conservatives accuse the courts of “judicial activism” — doing from the bench what Congress and legislatures have been reluctant to do. But that’s exactly what they want to do, but from a conservative Christian starting point.

Judicial tyranny, apparently, is in the eyes of the beholder.

Jewish groups have a huge stake in the debate, but their collective voices may be muted as the battle over the judiciary takes a quantum leap in intensity.

Only NCJW and the RAC, with their strong focus on abortion, civil and religious rights, have made the judicial battle a major focus, although several others have weighed in on one or two nominees they considered particularly egregious.

Most other Jewish groups are too worried about their nonprofit status, their politically diverse lay leadership and contributors — and, most of all, their precious access to the centers of power in Washington.

That reticence will be harder to maintain in the next four years. If Jewish leaders want to play a role in the most sweeping change in American society in generations, they will have to wade into the messy, high-stakes fight over the judiciary.

Your Letters


Hawaiian Gardens

We are surprised that The Journal allowed letter-writer Rabbi Julian White to characterize our organization as “nasty ‘stopmoskowitz.com’ antagonists” in his recent letter about Irving Moskowitz’s casino license (Letters, Sept. 3). We are actually stopmoskowitz.org, and White also got it wrong that our opposition to Moskowitz’s casino license was based on his efforts against Israeli-Palestinian peace. Our opposition was based on extensive evidence of Moskowitz’s economic and political damage to Hawaiian Gardens.

Jane Hunter, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem Los Angeles

Goodbye Mr. Pickles

Mr. Pickles Kosher Deli located across from Costco on Washington Boulevard has closed and I feel our community has really lost something wonderful and needed. A kosher restaurant serving remarkable food in an area that never had kosher food before [allowed us] to bring our loved ones to eat in a manner consistent with traditional Judaism.

I feel that Mr. Pickles going under as a restaurant is a badge of shame on our Jewish community on the Westside/South Bay. We should not have let it happen! We should have encouraged our congregants to have eaten more meals at our restaurant. We should have held more meetings at our restaurant. I am so sad to hear of this closing.

Mr. Pickles will be missed.

Joanne Samuelson, Los Angeles

Durban to Beersheba

Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman would do well to note that the biggest barrier to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan is the “supercharged ideological hatred” of Jewish religious nationalists (in Israel and abroad) and extremist Israeli settlers, not NGOs or even (for once) the Palestinian leadership (“From Durban to Beersheba,” Sept. 3). Blaming the Beersheba attack on a 3-year-old failed U.N. summit is an exercise in self-defeating self-delusion and the authors’ approach even manages to offend the memory of Sept. 11. Finally, it is frankly inexcusable for a rabbi ever to declare that “hope” is “destroyed.”

If our religious leaders do not encourage us to keep up hope, who will? Has Cooper forgotten the words to “Ani Ma’amin”?

Shawn Landres, Los Angeles

 

In their article, “From Durban to Beersheba,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman provide an important perspective how NGOs lead the demonization campaign that began at Durban. They also note that NGO Monitor is central in holding these non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, to account for exploiting the rhetoric of human rights while perverting its substance. Please note that the NGO Monitor is not based in Geneva, as stated in the article, but rather is part of the Israel-based Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and funded by the Wechsler Family Fund. NGO Monitor’s material and resources are available at www.ngo-monitor.org.

Gerald M. Steinberg Editor, NGO Monitor

Simon Plosker, Managing Editor, NGO Monitor Jerusalem

Everything’s Relative

In Tom Tugend article “Everything’s Relative” (Sept. 3), he states that Dr. Einstein’s papers of 1905 lead to the discovery of a number of discoveries. Among these he mentions X-rays. Roentgen discovered X-rays in 1895. The paper concerning the photoelectric effect dealt with light rays knocking that “knock” electrons from the surfaces of metals.

Martin W. Herman, Rancho Palos Verdes

 

You have Einstein labeled as an atheist. But he wasn’t that at all. He was among the most spiritual of men. He rejected the biblical description of God, but did conclude that there was a grand creator or designer of the universe. The biblical picture of God was — and is — too simple-minded and limiting, compared to what the universe evidences. Einstein understood that.

Sandra L. Lerner, Las Vegas

Judy Gruen

I have really enjoyed Judy Gruen’s columns. It is a pleasure to read articles by a Jewish woman whose writings reflect her pride in her religion. Too many of your columnists scorn and ridicule our beautiful religion’s values. Let’s have lots more of Judy Gruen and others like her who put the “Jewish” in Jewish Journal.

Frederica Barlaz, Los Angeles

California Budget

Idan Ivri writes regarding our apparently budget-to-budget gap of $10 billion, “…higher taxes or cutting social services, there doesn’t seem to be a third option. California needs to either spend less or take in more revenue, despite the ongoing appeal of doing neither” (“California’s Budget, Compromised,” Aug. 20).

What Ivri and California liberals fail to acknowledge is one of the main reasons for the seemingly permanent budget shortfall: The Business Shortfall. A great deal of business has left California, is leaving California and will leave California. Putting a business into California means constantly having to deal with malignantly opportunistic and dishonest lawsuits.

Jarrow L. Rogovin, Los Angeles

Real Planning Guide?

Wouldn’t it have made for better reading (and guidance) had your “B’nai Mitzvah Planning Guide” (Aug. 13) included some of the following:

At birth — choose a meaningful Hebrew name. Make sure that you are members of a synagogue and make Jewish life and practice an important part of your family lifestyle.

Eight to 10 years ahead — enroll your child in a Hebrew school or Jewish day school.

One to three years ahead — have a meaningful conversation with your child about the importance of becoming bar or bat mitzvah, highlighting the link to their tradition and heritage that they are joining.

Special day onward — emphasize the importance of continuing your child’s Jewish education. Encourage active participation in the synagogue, teen programs and summer camps, and continue to make Jewish life and practice an integral part of your family’s life. Motivate your child toward giving a portion of his/her gifts to tzedakah.

Imagine had the article used the above values as its theme — what a different world this would be!

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles

Spiritual High

On behalf of the entire Academy for Jewish Religion family, I wish to express our deep appreciation to The Jewish Journal for the beautiful stories highlighting our accomplished students and graduates (“Midlife Calling” and “New Prayer Communities Seek Spiritual High,” Aug. 20). It is an honor and a privilege to have created a rabbinical, cantorial and chaplaincy school able to teach such dedicated, motivated and passionate individuals. Having achieved success in their “first” professions, they are now poised to make a profound impact on the Jewish community. We will all benefit as a result.

Rabbi Stan Levy, Chair Board of Governors Academy for Jewish Religion Los Angeles

Stem Cell Research

Dr. Charles Hyman seeks to reassure us that, despite Bush’s position on stem cell research, the work will get done abroad, and therefore shouldn’t be a factor in the election (Letters, Aug. 13). I am not at all reassured. First, the same ideologues who want to prevent the research in this country might very well strive to prevent the use in this country of any treatments created by stem cell research elsewhere.

My second and much greater worry is that outsourcing what might be the most promising new direction in medical and biological research could be disastrous for scientific research in this country, and not just in the medical area. All the fields of both biological and physical sciences are becoming increasingly interconnected; blocking stem cell research could have a “domino effect” on wide variety of areas of science and the technology by cutting off potentialities that we cannot even imagine at the moment.

Finally, from a tribal point of view, losing out to other countries in medical and scientific research and development would also be “bad for the Jews.” As in so many other fields of intellectual endeavor, we Jewish Americans are prominent in many of these arenas far out of proportion to our numbers. I cannot prove it, but I think that this fact contributes to our political clout as well.

Deborah Bochner Kennel, Los Angeles

Christian Nation

Cathy Young (“Texas GOP Pushes ‘Christian Nation,'” July 23), objects to the symbolic reference to America as a Christian nation. But the European religious landscape raises the question of whether such symbolic slights are Jews’ biggest problem.

The Texas platform contrasts with the new European Union Constitution, which, at France’s behest, omits any reference to God.

In this secular environment, French Jews are denied the right to wear kippot in school, denied the right to vote absentee if an election falls on a Jewish holiday and denied accommodations when exams fall on Shabbat. Several European nations have outlawed the production or even importation of kosher meat, and others are threatening to outlaw circumcision, as well.

These restrictions are supposedly pro-animals and children, rather than anti-Jewish, in motivation. But Jews cannot thrive where religion does not.

In places like Texas, religion is deemed a constructive activity that deserves respect (even when it’s a minority denomination). In places like France, it’s considered by many to be a nonconstructive, divisive activity that must yield before other goods, like “social unity” or the rights of animals.

Jews have less to fear from positive support for religion than from negative restrictions on it. The Christian resolution might make some Jews uncomfortable, but it does not make their religious practice illegal.

Mitchell Keiter, Los Angeles

Presbyterian Dialogues

Mark Pelavin’s essay on the need to renew dialogue with Presbyterian leaders makes me wonder if he has actually read the resolutions passed by this church (“We Must Renew Presbyterian Dialogues,” Aug. 13).

I have.

Certainly, most Presbyterians are as shocked as I am by what their leaders are doing. As they should be, because the behavior of these men is shocking.

The Presbyterian resolutions call for turning Israel into a Muslim/Palestinian state by demanding “the right of [Palestinian] refugees to return to their homeland.”

And while the formal resolutions did not brand democratic Israel as an apartheid state, the church’s official press release did. Moreover, the leaders of this church, notably Stated Clerk Clinton Kirkpatrick, have libeled Israel by accusing it of apartheid in numerous formal statements, the earliest at least four years old.

The leadership of the Presbyterian Church is quite deliberately working to destroy the Jewish state by demanding a right of return, by promoting divestment, by regularly publishing outright untruths about events in Israel and by demonizing Israel in programming and official statements going back over a decade.

I believe that the Jewish community will be best served not by talking with the Israel-hating Presbyterian leadership at the national level but by going directly to the millions of Presbyterian pastors, elders and individual Christians who understand that the Jewish state has a right both to exist and to defend itself.

Diana Appelbaum, Boston Israel Action Committee Newton, Mass.

Over Mourning

Bravo to Managing Editor Amy Klein for her courageous piece on mourning (“Over Mourning,” July 16). I agree with her on our need to move from a perspective of victimization to one of dignity and empowerment. Here’s to continuing the conversation and moving forward.

Evangelicals Back Israel at RNC


"Well, umm, it’s interesting," Air America radio talk show star Al Franken opined on the future of the growing coalition between Jews and evangelical Christians who support Israel.

We’re at the Republican National Convention, walking across the overhead bridge linking Madison Square Garden and the U.S. Post Office’s James A. Farley Building, where the media are encamped.

"Evangelical Christians support Israel because according to prophecy, Jews have to be in Israel in order for the apocalypse to happen, and the messiah and all that stuff," he said.

"And when that happens, of course, Jews will all burn in hell," Franken said. "And so I think at that point the coalition will break up."

Hades humor aside, the evangelical Christian support that the Jewish community’s position on a secure, safe Israel is becoming more prominent. The phrase "Christian Zionism" in the past few years has entered the lexicons of Israel’s Jewish American supporters as well as liberal Protestants, who usually ally themselves with liberals on issues like abortion and gay rights and are opposed to evangelicals’ alliances with Jews.

This week’s Republican National Convention continued to press the case for Israel and continued Jewish-evangelical Christian fraternization. On Aug. 29, a pre-convention Chelsea Piers party hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main draw was U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who is popular with evangelicals.

"Look, they’re not traditional allies on some social justice issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, a public awareness campaign that spent a combined $1 million on pro-Israel advertising during the Republican and Democratic conventions. "That doesn’t mean that we can’t be a big tent and work together on issues that are near and dear to our hearts."

Dan Israel, a Jewish telecommunications executive and a GOP alternate delegate from Georgia, said Christians’ love of Israel is not predicated on converting Jews or wishing them hellfire.

"They don’t want to convert all the Jews, because they feel there has to be Jews in the land of Israel for the messiah to come," Israel said. "They don’t feel that every single Jew has to be converted because if that ever happened, the messiah wouldn’t come because there’d be no Jews left in the land of Israel."

Much Christian support for Zionism is often more personal than biblical.

"I had a tremendous experience when I was serving in the Middle East, and certainly recognize the importance of Israel’s security," said Geoff Davis, a former 82nd Airborne commander and a conservative Christian running for Congress in the open seat in the Northern Kentucky’s suburbs of Cincinnati, where his Democratic opponent is Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s dad.

"People are motivated by many different perspectives," Davis said. "I’ve seen it from a wide variety of perspectives. I think what opened my eyes the most was running U.S. Army flight operations on the ground in a multinational force, and the importance of seeking a peaceful solution that preserves the only democratic government in the Middle East. Israel has to have a right to defend itself."

When Franken’s fellow Minnesotan, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, took to the podium at the Plaza Hotel this week near Manhattan’s Central Park, the freshman Republican made it plain to the mostly Jewish audience of 1,500: "I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate without the strong support of the Republican Jewish Coalition," he said.

Coleman was one several senators praising the RJC at the growing Jewish GOP group’s swank afternoon party, with police keeping about 120 loud and animated, but nonviolent protesters across the street from the Plaza. Like many senators, Coleman also counts evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as part of his political core. But while Jews and conservative Christians find common ground in supporting Israel’s right to exist, how the Jewish state will exist can at times divide liberal and centrist Jews and evangelical Christians.

"Where it becomes complicated is when many of them oppose the idea of territorial compromise," said David Bernstein, Washington, D.C., chapter director for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which this week in New York held not only a forum on Jewish Republicans plus talks on the Sudanese crisis and anti-Americanism, but also four separate discussions on Jewish American relations with Latinos, Korean Americans, Indian Americans and Turkish Americans.

"There is no Jewish-evangelical alliance," said Bernstein, explaining the frustrations that can occur between some Jews and some Christians. "There’s an illusion of alliance because both evangelical Christians and Jews [support Israel]. That doesn’t mean that they’re coordinating in any way, shape of form. Their support is valuable, but that doesn’t mean there’s coordination."

Bernstein said that some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians he knows feel more comfortable with more conservative Jewish-oriented Israel advocacy groups that present tough, no-compromise policy scenarios which may appeal to Christians with Bible-driven views of what modern Israel should be.

Republican National Committee Chairman and former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot downplayed any Evangelical-Jewish rift on policy specifics, saying that the party has, "bridges built to virtually all of the faiths."

Washington pundit Norman Ornstein said policy disagreements between Jews and Christians are found in abortion and gay marriage, so therefore Israel should not be an exception just because evangelicals support Jews with a basic, upfront Christian Zionist support for Israel’s right to exist.

"Friends in a broad issue may not be friends in the specifics," Ornstein said. "Some evangelical organizations are going to have clashes, with the more centrist and liberal Jewish organizations that are pro-Israel because they ally themselves with very tough-minded positions. But it’s not true of all evangelicals, and a lot of evangelicals who support Israel don’t necessarily adhere to a no-compromise position. So you’re going to find shifting alliances."

Other Jewish political activists are unfazed by policy differences with Christians and welcome not only their U.S. support but also how their religious tourism dollars have been a bulwark keeping alive Israel’s tourism industry, which has suffered due to terrorism, which has kept many Jewish American tourists away in large numbers in the past few years.

Stanley Treitel, an L.A. Jewish community activist who attends Young Israel of Hancock Park, dismissed AJC concerns about the influence that more conservative Zionist groups may have on Christians, such as the Zionist Organization of America.

"I think that’s internal Jewish fighting," Treitel said. "I don’t think that anybody can control any one group. They [evangelical Christians] see that the right step to be taken with Israel is on the right side of the aisle, not on the left side, as we see with the AJC or the American Jewish Congress; they’re on the left side of the aisle."

Watergate legend and radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy also understands why Jews and Christians break bread together on Israel.

"People who are religiously observant, as Christian evangelicals are, are respectful of other people who are religiously observant, as are so many Jews," said Liddy, whose GOP "Radio Row" microphone table was about 15 yards away from Al Franken’s Air America table. "Both religions have strong senses of good and evil, right and wrong. And so I would suggest that they are natural allies."

Unforgiven


The best line in the 1992 movie, “Unforgiven,” is when Gene Hackman is looking up into Clint Eastwood’s shotgun and moans, “I don’t deserve this … to die like this,” and Eastwood snarls back, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

That exchange is the only way to make sense of what passes for international jurisprudence when it comes to Israel these days.

Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled against the separation barrier that Israel is building between it and the West Bank. The World Court ruled that the barrier, which is mostly composed of a series of fences and sensors, abrogates the sovereign rights of the Palestinian people. Because the barrier as currently conceived will incorporate, according to United Nations estimates, 14 percent of the disputed West Bank territory, the justices ruled the fence violates the Palestinian right to self-determination and is “tantamount to de facto annexation.”

The court did acknowledge that Israel had a right to defend itself against terror — a few lines in a long, scathing decision — then went on to demand Israel tear down its fence.

Israel said it would ignore that ruling and a subsequent U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on it to carry out the court’s decision.

Other commentators have pointed out the laughable hypocrisy of the World Court itself. There is the Chinese judge, representing a country which, to put it mildly, didn’t bother to erect a fence between itself and Tibet. China just went in and took it over. And there is a Russian judge, who might want to rule next on his own government’s scorched-earth methods of dealing with terror in Chechnya.

But, no. Israel’s response to a campaign of relentless terror has been relentlessly subjected to a kind of snap international legal judgment. And deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

A Georgetown University professor decreed in the Washington Post that Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations against terror leaders was “illegal and extra-judicial.” The American news media quickly echoed his conclusion. One ABC anchor explained to an Israeli leader that killing a Hamas leader was “taking the law into your own hands.”

And it is nearly impossible to find a news report that doesn’t refer to the West Bank and Gaza settlements and the Israeli occupation itself as illegal, though international experts at the very least differ on this fact.

One can argue whether the actions Israel’s government has taken in the face of terror and recalcitrance are moral or effective. One can argue that Israel’s settlement policy — as its architect, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has come around to doing — is deleterious to the nation’s security.

But it eludes me how trying Israel in an international kangaroo court serves either the Palestinian cause or that of justice itself.

What it serves is a politically bankrupt Palestinian leader’s aim of undermining Israel in world opinion.

P.A. Chairman Yasser Arafat has used the strategy in the past to wonderful effect. Having presided over a disastrous second intifada, he has pulled an old tool from his belt — use the international legal process to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Arafat’s two biggest successes in this score were the 1975 U.N. resolution labeling Zionism as racism — overturned in December 1991 — and the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in August-September 2001, at which paragons of human rights like Syria passed a resolution that condemned, “Israel as a racist apartheid state in which Israel’s brand of apartheid is a crime against humanity.”

Also last month, Israel’s own judicial system yet again foiled the nation’s enemies’ best efforts at defaming it. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that in places where the security barrier “injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way, while violating their rights under humanitarian international law” the government would have to change its course. Sharon promptly declared that he would abide by the decision of his Supreme Court, which judiciously sought to balance Israel’s security needs with Palestinian rights, and ignore the World Court, whose imbalance was patently clear.

It would be easy to write off the Palestinian strategy to attack Israel on the legal front as mere propaganda. The World Court ruling was, after all, nonbinding, and lately, editorials decrying Arafat’s uselessness have overtaken those denouncing the fence. But the cumulative effect of these efforts is to delegitimize not Israel’s policies, but the very idea of the state itself. After all, an outlaw state has no more right to exist than an outlaw, like the kid says in “Unforgiven”: “I guess they had it comin’.”

Sharon Defuses Settlement Crisis


For a day or two in early August, Israel and the United States seemed to be heading for a showdown neither side wanted.

Quick action by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon managed to avert a looming crisis over Israeli building in the West Bank, but the tension could resume as Israel comes under pressure to meet its commitments to dismantle illegal settlement outposts and not to expand existing settlements.

Tension between Washington and Jerusalem was triggered by reports of massive Israeli construction in and around the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, a bedroom community about three miles east of Jerusalem.

The Americans also wanted to know why Israel hadn’t removed dozens of "illegal" or "unauthorized" West Bank outposts, despite earlier promises. In early August talks in Jerusalem, Sharon was able to convince a high-level U.S. envoy, Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council, that he was acting in good faith and that he soon would take extensive action to dismantle the outposts.

Simultaneously, Sharon took a number of steps to show the Americans that he meant business: He froze several Housing Ministry projects, despite the fact that they already had received government approval, and he offered the Americans detailed explanations of what was happening on the ground and his government’s difficulties in dealing with the settler problem.

Israeli officials also went to unprecedented lengths to coordinate data on the outposts with the Americans. For the first time, the two sides were able to produce an agreed-upon list of which outposts should be dismantled.

Sharon told the Americans that he had ordered a Justice Ministry attorney to prepare new legislation that would make it easier for Israel to dismantle the outposts before the U.S. presidential election in November. Sharon also ordered Dov Weisglass, his bureau chief, to give the Americans a progress report in the next few weeks.

To ensure that there would be no confrontation now with the Americans, Sharon froze a number of projects approved by former Housing Minister Effie Eitam, the hawkish leader of the National Religious Party, who resigned over Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

In his capacity as acting housing minister, Sharon ordered the suspension of tenders for about 1,300 housing units in the settlements of Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Betar Elit, Geva Binyamin, Karnei Shomron and Ma’aleh Adumim until the new minister, Tzippi Livni of Sharon’s own Likud Party, examines whether the projects contravene understandings with the Americans on halting settlement expansion.

As for the building that is proceeding in Ma’aleh Adumim, Sharon explained that this was an old project approved by former Prime Minster Ehud Barak’s government in 1999 and now nearing completion. It was not something his government had approved or could stop, Sharon said.

Some in the Israeli media confused the building in Ma’aleh Adumim with a far more significant plan to join the city to Jerusalem through a continuous network of urban communities scheme known as A-1, which dates to the administration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. The idea was to build a complex of residential and tourist areas all the way from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem, creating a huge metropolitan area and ensuring Israeli control of Greater Jerusalem.

According to Israeli officials, the A-1 plan was designed to preempt an opposing Palestinian scheme to cut Ma’aleh Adumim off from Jerusalem by continuous north-south building, connecting the villages of Abu Dis, Issawiya and Anata, preventing Jewish territorial contiguity.

So far, neither side has done very much on the ground. In his talks with Abrams, Sharon noted that the plan hadn’t yet been approved in its entirety and maintained that it was not on the agenda, at least for the time being. For now, the Americans seem prepared to give Sharon the benefit of the doubt on building in existing settlements, but they want to see action soon on removal of outposts.

As a first step to show it is acting in good faith, Israel has charged a senior Defense Ministry official, Baruch Spiegel, with comparing Israeli and American data on the outposts and reaching agreement on numbers and locations. The bottom line is that Israel and the United States now agree on the figures: There are 82 outposts in all, including 23 built after March 2001, when Sharon came to power, and which he has promised to remove first.

"These 23 are the main focus of our work now," Spiegel told Israel TV.

The same model has been adopted with regard to the legal issues pertaining to removal of the outposts: A Justice Ministry official, attorney Talia Sasson, has been assigned the task of formulating new legislation to ease their removal.

The old laws, based on Jordanian and Turkish precedents, afford protection for illegal buildings. Ironically, a system that successive Israeli governments exploited to build settlements is now being used to prevent the government from taking them down.

Sasson has been given two months to come up with new legislation that will radically alter the legal position. Sharon has promised the Americans to act quickly once the legislation is in place and to start evacuating outposts well before the presidential election.

As he seeks international support for his disengagement plan, Sharon has no wish for a confrontation with the United States — and the American president, in an election year, has no wish for a clash with Israel that could cost him crucial Jewish votes.

Though there is little American pressure on him now, Sharon is well aware that the Americans and the rest of the international community see his ability to remove outposts as a test of whether he will be able to carry out his far more ambitious disengagement plan, which calls for dismantling more than 20 bona fide settlements.

Sharon’s accommodating tactics seem to have won him breathing space until after the U.S. election. But if he fails to deliver by then or soon afterward, he knows that he will face strong pressure from the elected president and a possible escalation that could jeopardize his main strategic goal: achieving a separation between Israelis and Palestinians, backed by the international community, led by the United States.

Justice or Character Assassination?


Rabbi Michael Mayersohn feels betrayed by his own professional association that provided "a loaded gun" to an accuser, who wielded it to take aim at his reputation.

Last month, what Mayersohn described as "a private torment" became a public embarrassment when a charge of sexual misconduct against him was divulged to a wire service by his accuser. The former congregant, Chavah Stevens-Hogue, also revealed a pending disciplinary decision against Mayersohn by the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) story appeared June 15.

Ultimately, the board of trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) on June 20 upheld its earlier reprimand, Mayersohn said, overriding the more severe censure recommended by the conference’s ethics and appeals committee.

Only the most egregious offenses that warrant expulsion and suspension are routinely disclosed in the conference’s newsletter.

Mayersohn, 51, said that Stevens-Hogue’s complaint is fiction and that even the most lenient professional reprimand is unjustified. Stevens-Hogue, 44, of Huntington Beach, is equally adamant that her allegation of "sexual boundary violations" has merit and criticizes the rabbinical association for showing favoritism to its members by failing to follow its own guidelines.

"After soul-searching, I had to put privacy aside," said Stevens-Hogue, explaining she took her accusations public only after the CCAR’s board tossed out the harsher punishment imposed by the ethics and appeals committee, which handles such charges. "I thought that was a fair and reasonable decision," she said of censure, which would require Mayersohn to undergo psychological testing, therapy and counseling for teshuvah (repentance).

The painful case reveals the vulnerability of clergy to character assassination as well as the difficulty for lay people in challenging a religious entity that keeps its decisions secret.

If the phone calls Mayersohn has received are an indication, his predicament is not uncommon. He has received a half-dozen sympathy calls from colleagues around the country who also described defending themselves against complaints they say were unjustified. In at least one other instance where a CCAR reprimand was issued, the colleague told Mayersohn the reproof was taken to pacify the complainant and resolve the issue. Under the Reform code of ethics, a reprimand is the least serious form of punishment and takes the form of a private letter to the rabbi and complainant involved.

"That suggests the pattern is when in doubt the CCAR issues reprimands," said Mayersohn, who contends Reform ethics policies need revision. "Don’t put a loaded gun in the hand of a complainant. The policy inadvertently betrays rabbis by informing the complainant of a reprimand. The complainant is a free agent; while they don’t want the complainant to go to the press, it must happen."

He is unwilling to file suit against Stevens-Hogue for libel.

Rabbi Paul Menitoff, the group’s executive vice president, defended the way the rabbinic conference handles complaints about members.

"Complaints are addressed extremely seriously," he said. "There are people who go through this and feel the resolution is too strict or not strict enough." Although he lacked statistics about the outcomes of ethics complaints or appeals of the ethics panel’s decisions, Menitoff said recent appeals were "mixed" and did not solely agree with the appellant.

Stevens-Hogue denies her intention in going public is to damage Mayersohn’s reputation. She felt compelled to raise an alarm because "he’s in pastoral counseling without supervision; to warn the public, the Jewish community, that there’s an issue out there. People need to know.

"I’m not doing this for me," said Stevens-Hogue, who might have brought suit against the temple, a recourse she chose not to pursue. "I feel like he will do it again. I expected the CCAR to keep the rabbinate safe."

The issue stems from a May 2002 complaint made by Stevens-Hogue, who alleged that Mayersohn made sexual advances during a closed-door marital counseling session when he served as rabbi of Westminster’s Temple Beth David. After 13 years, he unexpectedly quit the pulpit in February 2003, a resignation he says is unrelated to Stevens-Hogue’s complaint. He has resumed work, mostly teaching, but also providing pastoral counseling.

The counseling incident took place in December 1999, Mayersohn said, citing his own correspondence, dated Feb. 26, 2000, which suggests she "misunderstood" his expressions of concern and the nature of their relationship.

"I did the things you are supposed to do," Mayersohn said, describing reporting the assertions to the temple’s executive committee, the Reform movement’s congregational arm and to the chair of the rabbinical ethics committee in 2000, two years before Stevens-Hogue filed a formal complaint.

"This is a man’s life, career and reputation that is on the line," said Melanie Alkov, a Beth David trustee. "I must come to his defense."

"I applaud Rabbi Mayersohn for standing up for his rights — for appealing the reprimand that was injudiciously extended to him and I pray that my faith in Rabbi Mayersohn’s integrity will prevail," Alkov wrote in a letter to The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, which ran the JTA story in its June 18 edition.

Another defender is Joan Kaye, director of O.C.’s Bureau of Jewish Education. She hired Mayersohn to head up a new initiative that begins in September. The Jewish Academy of Growth and Learning will award certificates of recognition to students of communitywide adult education courses. Mayersohn’s principal role is as its student guidance counselor. Kaye’s confidence in him remains unshaken.

"Nothing has changed in the last two years," she said.

Stevens-Hogue, who changed her name to Chavah from Lori at a ceremony a year after joining Beth David, chose a Conservative conversion to ensure that her daughter would be accepted by most American Jews when it comes time to marry. She left the congregation and now sporadically attends services at Long Beach’s Orthodox Shul by the Shore, where her daughter attends Hebrew school.

"They have very strict rules about rabbis touching congregants," said Stevens-Hogue, whose husband of 12 years did not convert. "I’m still going through spiritual issues because of what happened."

She questions the fairness and probity of the CCAR’s ethics guidelines, which were adopted in June 2003. The ethics’ panel made its decision to censure Mayersohn that August. The board came to a different decision last December. Under the code, the board, before deciding on a complaint, is supposed to allow both the person making the complaint and the rabbi involved to make their case. In this instance, only Mayersohn was invited beforehand.

"They violated their own process," said Stevens-Hogue, who was permitted a 10-minute appeal by speakerphone on June 20. Earlier, CCAR’s president, Rabbi Janet Marder, of Los Altos, apologized, saying the board wasn’t "up to speed on the guidelines." Marder did not return phone calls seeking comment.

"When a religious body investigates its own members, they have to be scrupulous to avoid bias," Stevens-Hogue said. "This clearly shows bias."

She contends the CCAR’s board should look to how other religious denominations handle sexual misconduct allegations, including investigating the existence of similar allegations within the congregation. A seven-month investigation, which included rabbis and a lawyer on the investigative team, did not probe that far, she said.

Mayersohn, who has a CCAR pension fund, said he remains an "unhappy" CCAR member.

Rabbis’ Tact Puts Sex Victims First


David Schwartz, who pleaded no contest last year to charges associated with child molestation at an Orthodox summer camp, has been released from a yearlong stay at a residential treatment facility and is now living in the Pico-Robertson area. Rabbinic and mental health professionals are taking steps to help the victims and their families, as well as the community at large, feel safe and protected from a man who allegedly sexually brutalized and psychologically tormented 4-year-old boys at a Culver City camp for the arts in summer 2002.

Despite his plea, outside of courtroom proceedings Schwartz has maintained his innocence. His wife Nitzah, a preschool teacher at Yeshivat Yavneh in Hancock Park (where Schwartz himself used to teach), has stood by him throughout, saying to rabbis and others that there is no way the father of her children could have committed the lewd acts attributed to him.

While some rabbis who know the family have quietly supported Schwartz and his family, many prominent rabbis and community leaders have been strident and outspoken in their support for the victims — an indication that the Orthodox community has overcome its historic hush-hush approach to abuse. Taking its lead from Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, a group of rabbis has attended hearings, counseled the victims and inserted itself into the case.

Several high-profile cases in recent years — both locally and nationally — have helped foster a newfound willingness among rabbis to work with mental health professionals not only to handle crises, but to take proactive measures as well.

"The families see us there and the community knows we’re there, and I think that it’s an important factor for them to know we are not just going to sweep this under the rug," said Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, chair of the Rabbinical Council of California’s (RCC) Family Commission and a member of Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board — groups that often collaborate and have overlapping membership.

In a plea bargain reached in January 2003, Schwartz pleaded no contest to one count of committing lewd acts with a minor under 14. Eight other charges were dismissed, and Schwartz received a six-year suspended prison sentence and one year in a treatment facility, and is now on probation for an additional four years. He must undergo another year of therapy, cannot work as a teacher or with children and must register as a sex offender for life.

Upon Schwartz’s release in late January this year, Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader at the Airport Courthouse ordered Schwartz to stay out of an area roughly encompassing the Pico-Robertson and south Westwood neighborhoods. Schwartz, his wife and their three young children reportedly live just east of Robertson Boulevard, one of the boundaries, but have been ordered by the court to move east of La Cienega Boulevard. In addition, Schwartz must stay 100 yards away from a list of synagogues and schools where some of his victims may attend.

In a letter filed with the court March 2, RCC’s Goldenberg and Rabbi Avrohom Union recommended the judge also prohibit Schwartz from attending any synagogue where children are present and only allow him to attend synagogues populated mostly by senior citizens. They also asked that Schwartz be ordered stay away from all schools and be prohibited from using the mikvah (ritual bath). Mader rejected those recommendations.

"The court has commented that the victims need to step back and let the man lead his life," said Vicki Podberesky, Schwartz’s attorney. "The court put on restrictions it feels are appropriate and the DA thought those restrictions were appropriate."

Podberesky said that while she can’t comment on the Schwartz case, in general the criminal justice system is imperfect and innocent people do get convicted. "Sex offense can carry a life sentence and people make decisions many times about how to handle their case based on the fact that they want to ensure that they will see their family again," she said.

The rabbis say their job is not to retry the case, but to accept Schwartz’s plea and treat him as a sex offender. The RCC, together with the Halachic Advisory Board, oversees a beit din (rabbinic court) to deal with such issues. Schwartz has been invited to sit down with the beit din.

Goldenberg, who is also principal of Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes, said that the beit din’s aim is not to penalize Schwartz, but to protect the community and to work with Schwartz to help rehabilitate him — perhaps help him find a job and a synagogue.

"In one sense we want to be harsh and tough and make him understand that he is going to be monitored," Goldenberg said. "On the other hand we are here to help and we are willing to come to an agreement. If we can tell the victims’ families that he is going to follow what he is supposed to do and be where he is supposed to be, we can help make things better for him and his family."

The most likely scenario, many acknowledge, is that Schwartz will leave town, which he can do with proper permission from the court. Jewish sex offenders have been known to resettle in Israel or other Jewish communities.

Such was the case with Rabbi Mordechai Yomtov, who divorced his wife and left Los Angeles soon after he was released from prison about a year ago. In February 2002, Yomtov pleaded guilty to two counts of committing continuous sexual abuse on a minor and one count of lewd act on a minor at Chabad’s Cheder Menachem. He was in prison for a year and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

While both Schwartz and his victims would likely be happier with him out of Los Angeles, the beit din acknowledges its responsibility to keep tabs on him. "There is no question that theoretically the ideal situation would be for him to leave town, assuming he could be monitored," said Rabbi Shalom Tendler, a member of the Halachic Advisory Board. "It would be entirely wrong and irresponsible for us to just push our problem on somebody else."

The Halachic Advisory Board has taken a strong stand on issues of abuse. Aside from working directly with Aleinu Director Debbie Fox to respond to crisis situations, the board helped draft and implement guidelines for schools and camps to prevent, recognize and deal with situations of abuse.

Those guidelines have set a national standard in the Orthodox community, and have since been modified and adopted by schools throughout the country.

"That is the beauty of our community — the rabbonim and JFS and Aleinu work together on crises and we provide advocacy and support from a spiritual as well as a mental health model," Fox said.

The victims’ families will need that support, now that Schwartz is back in the neighborhood. One mother of a victim said her son had been doing better but is now having nightmares and acting out again.

She plans to take him to the Culver City Police Department, where detectives have been helpful all along, so they can explain to him how Schwartz is free but the child will still be safe.

"He’s always been so worried about other kids getting hurt, so the police made him a special junior detective," the mother said. "Now they’ll give him one more badge and promote him."

For more information on Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, call (323) 761-8816.

Support Pledged on Marking Historic Ruling


May 17 will mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education that outlawed separate educational facilities as inherently unequal.

Less well-known is Orange County’s role in establishing that historic precedent. In 1947, a group of parents led by Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez of Westminster fought to end California’s segregation of its Latino school children. Their suit came to the attention of the state’s governor at the time, Earl Warren, who went on to hear the Brown case as chief justice of the nation’s highest court.

"This is an opportunity for us to join with the fastest-growing community in Orange County," said Marc Dworkin, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s local chapter. "We are natural allies over civil liberties," said Dworkin, who recently met with Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana). He pledged the Jewish community’s support for a pending congressional resolution to give national recognition to the Mendez family’s role in history.

Dworkin had company. He enlisted support from Rabbi Shelton Donnell of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom and Chelle Friedman, staff to the Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Council, to champion Jewish issues in a collaborative approach. "This way we can have a more coordinated effort," Dworkin said. "It strengthens everyone to go in together."

Cultivating Latino-Jewish relations is a priority for Dworkin. Last month, he helped convene a two-day regional summit between Latino and Jewish leaders in Arizona and San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange counties. He has also asked the O.C. Human Relations Commission to help start an ongoing Latino-Jewish dialogue this spring among leaders, similar to the diverse "living room" discussions started after Sept. 11.

Bearing Witness at The Hague


Last Monday afternoon (Feb. 23), I stood alongside a rabbinical student named Etan Mintz on a street corner not far from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, holding aloft signs reading, "Stop the Terror."

We were standing at a spot some distance from hundreds of other supporters of Israel who, like us, had gathered in the Dutch capital to raise a voice of moral conscience against the International Court of Justice that was trying the State of Israel for building a fence to protect its citizenry from terrorist attacks. The tribunal had been convened at the behest of the U.N. General Assembly, which had asked it to issue a judicial opinion regarding the fence.

Altogether, approximately 700 pro-Israel demonstrators from around the world gathered in the Dutch capital to bear witness and protest the travesty of justice taking place. Individual Jews have often been victims of show trials, including Alfred Dreyfus and Mendele Beilus to name a few. But this time, it was the State of Israel, itself, and by inference the Jewish people as a whole being put on trial.

Standing right there on European soil 60 years after the Shoah, I sensed a great irony. Sixty years ago, the world was silent as defenseless Jews were taken to their slaughter, while today, with the Jewish people finally able to protect itself, the world is trying to deny Israel the right to self-defense. Moreover, much like the Shoah, where the threat of Nazism was not just to Jews but to the whole world, today we are all vulnerable to terrorism. And if Israel’s fence is taken down, terrorism will increase not only in Israel but around the world.

While we were gathering to make our protest, the remains of Bus No. 19, a bombed-out Israeli bus from a recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem, was slowly towed into the area where we stood. Zaka relief workers, who tend to the dead when attacks occur in Israel, removed the canvas that had covered the bus while it was being transported from Israel to Holland. The sight of the charred and mangled remains of the bus injected a powerful sense of reality into the scene.

The reaction of the local Jewish community was not different from what I have experienced again and again over many years of taking part in protests on behalf of our people in different parts of Europe. Everywhere, the local Jews were frightened — frightened that if we spoke out clearly and confidently on behalf of Israel and the honor of the Jewish people, they, themselves, would become vulnerable.

And yet, despite the palpable feeling of fear manifested by some Jews during the protest, there was a larger sense of common purpose among all of us who had come from so many places to gather in The Hague — a rare moment of Jewish unity that brought together Jews of the left and of the right, Jews who were religious and Jews who were secular. We formed an extraordinary rainbow, sharing a sense of sacred mission.

Also gratifying was that we were joined by Christians as well. In fact, the 1,200 Christians who marched in solidarity with Israel that day, holding up pictures of all the Israeli terror victims, significantly outnumbered the sizable Jewish contingent.

The fear of the Jewish community of The Hague that violence might erupt was not unjustified. Once Etan and I were taken inside the police station, a woman officer asked us why we had continued to stand there and hold up our signs as the Palestinian protesters were marching by.

"It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull," she said. The implication of her remarks seemed to be that we were somehow to blame for standing in a dignified vigil, while the Palestinians, who appeared ready to attack us, were totally innocent.

Yet we decisively rejected such inverted morality, because, if we’ve learned anything from the events in Europe 60 years ago, it is that the "sha-shtill" (be quiet) mentality doesn’t work. While we may feel afraid, we must never act afraid.

Indeed, on the previous day, less than 24 hours before the opening of the trial, we went to the tribunal site, where we met a group of terror victims from an organization called Almagor, which means "do not fear." Because we had no permit to demonstrate that Sunday, the police pushed us away from the tribunal site, and we found ourselves wandering the cold streets of The Hague with some members of Almagor.

Among them was Avigail Cohen, whose daughter, Rachel, was murdered in a supermarket by a female Palestinian terrorist. As we walked alongside her, Avigail expressed to us her agony that in reports on the attack in the United States media and around the world, the bomber and Rachel were somehow equated — both portrayed as equal victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Also with us was Shmuel Landau, whose son, Ronen, was killed by a sniper bullet as Shmuel was driving him home. With us, too, was Miri Avitan, whose son, Asaf, was murdered in a Ben Yehuda ice cream parlor as he was celebrating his 15th birthday with his friends. These relatives of victims and others had petitioned the court to hear their testimony, only to be turned away.

As we wandered through the cold and lonely streets, a kind of Elijah appeared. While wheeling his daughter in a stroller, Ian Lane had seen our group and followed us. Ian is from New York and is living in The Hague with his wife, who is working on a case concerning the former Yugoslavia. Ian had seen us at several rallies in New York, and recognizing us that day in The Hague, he invited everyone to his home.

As we entered, he lit a fire and offered hot drinks, as well as aspirin and other medicine to those getting sick from the cold, and even emptied his closets of sweaters, hats, gloves and scarves, insisting that we put them on and keep them. Then right there on that cold Sunday afternoon, the group began to sing. I thought that if we had come to The Hague only to meet Ian, it would have been enough.

On Monday afternoon, following the major protest that morning, representatives of the Israeli Foreign Ministry delivered a series of remarks to those of us who had gathered in defense of Israel. After that, a father described the loss of his daughter to terrorism.

Yet, even as he movingly recounted how he had learned of his daughter’s death, several cameramen demonstratively packed up their gear and left the scene. For them, apparently, the victims had simply become numbers.

The next morning, we again gathered at the tribunal site. This time we were far fewer in number, and we sang softly in a more reflective, meditative way. As we left the square, we saw the families of the victims, the Almagor group, sitting with pictures of their loved ones.

Their lawyer had walked to the International Court building to ask that his clients, the relatives of terror victims, be permitted to testify but had been turned away. As he walked back toward us, the police cordoned off the area in front of the tribunal site. The double fence, thick and heavy, slowly closed, cordoning off the area from the public.

How ironic that while a fence was being used to secure The Hague from families of terror victims, inside there was an uproar over Israel’s fence to keep out terrorists.

+